16 Nov

New data suggests fluoridated water reduces decay risk but has limited impact on dental health inequalities

New data suggests that fluoridated water reduces the risk of tooth decay in young children, but its impact is limited in tackling dental health inequalities.

The study focused on two locations in Cumbria. One area had no access to fluoridated water and the other had recently restarted water fluoridation. In both areas, the research team analysed and collected data from two groups of children: one group was aged 5 years old when fluoridation relaunched in 2013 and the other group comprised babies who were born after the programme restarted.

Researchers collected data from regular checks on the children over several years. Dental professionals examined the younger group at the age of 3 and 5 years old and the older group at 5, 7 and 11 years old. 

The results, which have been published in the Public Health Research journal, show that among younger children, fluoridated water lowers the risk of tooth decay. Of the 1,444 children in this group, 17.4% of children with access to fluoridated water had decayed milk teeth compared to 21.4% of those in the location without fluoridated water supplies. Once other factors, including sex, age and socioeconomic factors were taken into account, the risk of decay was 26% lower. 

In the older group, there was limited evidence of significant benefits. Experts believe this could be due to the fact that there wasn’t enough time for cavities to develop in the newly-erupted adult teeth. 

The team found that the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth was lower in both age groups in the area with access to fluoridated water. 

The study indicates that water fluoride is cost-effective and it can have a positive impact on oral health in young children, but it shows that fluoridated water is not enough to close gaps between wealthy and deprived areas. 

Prof Mike Kelly, from the research team based at Cambridge University, said that the new data will help to inform decision-making. Previous data is up to 40 years old.