The addition of fluoride to drinking water supplies has long been a topic for discussion. After all, there are two sides to every argument, and this is one of those debates that people tend to revisit regularly, but rarely change their minds about.
As such, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to look at both sides of the research as well as consider some of the new discourse surrounding the topic.
Water fluoridation in the UK
Currently, around 10% of the UK population live in areas with a water fluoridation scheme.[i] This means that millions of people are currently consuming water with added fluoride. However, at this time, the decision of whether an area has a fluoridation scheme in place is down to the local authority.
For the most part, water fluoridation schemes are considered beneficial as research has proven that they help reduce incidence of cavities by about 25% in both children and adults.[ii] This is especially advantageous in deprived areas.
Additionally, new research I recently came across that inspired this blog suggests that water fluoridation could also be the most environmentally-friendly form of prevention. A study that assessed different preventive measures found that water fluoridation was not only effective, but also a more sustainable option when compared to toothbrushing and application of topical fluoride varnishes.[iii] The study took into account the full life cycle and resources needed to achieve each of these processes, and while, of course, tooth brushing and fluoride varnishes still have their place, it does make for a compelling argument to increase water fluoridation across the nation.
This is especially true when we consider that sustainability is a huge focus in dentistry right now. Tooth decay and caries are still a huge concern in the UK, so it makes sense that we should be exploring all available solutions.
What about the negatives?
Of course, as with any issue there are two sides to the coin. Some of the main concerns surrounding water fluoridation is that some people believe that it is an unethical form of mass medication. Another potential concern is that as fluoride is in the drinking water, if people drink more water they are exposed to more fluoride, which may, in turn, result in issues such as fluorosis.
The problem with these issues is that we’re now stepping into the realm of ethics. The argument that fluoridation of water supplies is mass medication and against consent is somewhat flawed – especially if you consider that all tap water is treated in order to make it safe to drink, and therefore already contains a number of chemicals that would otherwise not be present in natural water reserves. Additionally, if there are substantial benefits to fluoridation (which research has proven there are) isn’t safeguarding the oral health of people the most important thing?
Ultimately, I’m fully aware that this is an issue that will have two sides, but the new research pinpointing the environmental benefits of water fluoridation is another big push in the favour of these schemes. Whether this new research will push out more localised schemes is yet to be seen, but it’s definitely something we should all be considering.
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[i] Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. Water Fluoridation. Link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1060471/water-fluoridation-health-monitoring-report-2022.pdf [Last accessed December 22].
[ii] CDC. Community Water Fluoridation. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/index.html#:~:text=Drinking%20fluoridated%20water%20keeps%20teeth,the%20US%20health%20care%20system. [Last accessed December 22].
[iii] Science Daily. Water fluoridation: Effective prevention for tooth decay and a win for the environment, research shows. Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220829194742.htm [Last accessed December 22].