7th March 2014 – Millions of pounds spent by the NHS in England each year on extracting rotten teeth could be saved if water fluoridation was extended to areas of the country with high levels of tooth decay, says a report.
Research published in the British Dental Journal compared oral health in the North West where fluoride is not normally added to mains water, and the West Midlands where it is.
Artificial water fluoridation has been used as a way of preventing tooth decay in some areas of the UK for several decades. However, there is a lack of clinical evidence about how effective fluoridation is at improving oral health.
Some campaigners have called for the practice of water fluoridation to stop, arguing that it amounts to imposing a medicinal treatment on people without their consent.
Several schemes in the West Midlands date back to the mid-1960s, and around 3.4 million people live in areas where fluoride is added – a coverage of about 60%. This compares to around 4% of people living in the North West.
Analysis of hospital statistics over a 3-year period between 2006 and 2009 suggests that on average:
Approximately 6,000 young people in the North West up to the age of 19 years were admitted annually for dental extractions
1,100 young people were admitted each year for dental extractions in the West Midlands
Although the North West has a larger population it is only one-third greater than the West Midlands, so the authors say this cannot account for such a large and unexpected difference seen for each of the three years.
Saving NHS resources
Using data from 2008-9 when the cost of removing a rotten tooth under general anaesthetic was £558, the researchers say the NHS could save £4 million on treating tooth decay in the North West compared with money being spent in the West Midlands.
They conclude that extending water fluoridation would not only save the NHS money, it would also free up time, dental surgical expertise and prevent many young people from having to undergo traumatic dental extractions.
However, the study authors say that one drawback to their findings is that they were unable to take account of how long people now living in fluoridated areas had been exposed to fluoride throughout their lives.
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