Dentists say ‘seize the moment’, as CMOs back water fluoridation

24 September, 2021 / editorial
 

A joint statement by the UK’s four chief medical officers highlighting the benefits of water fluoridation in reducing tooth decay has been welcomed by the British Dental Association (BDA).

The BDA said it supports community water fluoridation as a safe and effective public health intervention, as part of a package of measures to improve dental health, where technically feasible and appropriate for local needs. The Health and Care Bill, currently before Parliament, is set to simplify the rollout of the policy in England. Dentist leaders are now urging all four UK administrations to restate their positions on water fluoridation in light of the statement.   

Public Health England modelling shows water fluoridation more than pays for itself in medium term, owing to reduction in treatment need. £1 spent equates to £12.71 savings in five years, rising to £21.98 in ten. The BDA has stressed that upfront investment by Government is vital to unlock these benefits. 

In their statement, the four UK CMOs recognise water fluoridation should be seen as a complementary strategy, and not a substitute for regular dental check-ups and other effective methods of increasing fluoride use. The BDA backs a joined-up approach in which tried and tested policies like water fluoridation and supervised tooth brushing in early years settings are expanded, with parallel effort applied to rebuilding high street dental services.

Oral health inequality is anticipated to widen, given combination of unprecedented access problems, the suspension and ongoing disruption to public health programmes and changes to dietary habits since the start of the pandemic. Over 30 million appointments have been lost in NHS dentistry since lockdown, in England alone.  

Around 5.8 million people in England receive fluoridated water, the lion’s share artificially added, but in some locations the appropriate level exists naturally within local water supplies.

Eddie Crouch, the BDA’s Chair, said:“Every dentist will thank the CMOs for recognising the lasting benefits water fluoridation could bring to the nation’s oral health. However, these gains are purely theoretical without upfront investment. Spending here will pay for itself, and Ministers need to show they are willing to seize the moment.

“We need a joined-up approach. COVID has left millions unable to access care, and deep inequalities are now set to widen. The four Governments must double down on tried and tested policies while rebuilding the services millions depend on.”

In March this year, the BDA wrote to the Scottish Government urging it “to support the introduction of local water fluoridation as a cost effective, evidence-based preventive measure where practical and clinically appropriate”.

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