Peer questions fluoride evidence

Parliament was told that Public Health England (PHE) has been asked to review the evidence and make recommendations to the Department of Health (DH) by 15 December.

That advice will then be used to update the section on fluoride on the NHS Choice website, which is ‘due for review in January 2014’.

Earl Howe, the dentistry minister, did not express any direct concerns about the current advice available to the public on the controversial issue.

But, in a Parliamentary answer announcing the update, he said: ‘This will include ensuring that the information for the public is clear and based on evidence.’

The move comes after a shake-up that will make it easier for powerful local protest campaigns to block the adding of fluoride of tap water.

The abolition of strategic health authorities (SHAs) has passed responsibility to local authorities, which are more likely to be swayed by opponents of such a policy.

In South Hampshire, fluoridation was expected to be up and running in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams next year.

But, in 2012, Southampton council voted against the plans – put forward by the local SHA – following a 6,000-strong petition against the scheme.

And, recently, the Labour-run council suggested it would hold a referendum to give local voters the chance to block the fluoridation – aimed at cutting tooth decay.

The decision to update advice was revealed in a Parliamentary answer to a Crossbench peer, Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, who cast doubt on the benefits of fluoride.

The Earl called for the NHS Choices website to drop its claim that fluoridated water and toothpaste ‘do not cause any harmful side effects to a person’s overall health’.

And he questioned why it made no reference to a 2000 University of York report that found high levels of dental fluorosis in fluoridated areas.

In reply, Earl Howe said a more recent, 2012 study had found ‘far lower levels of fluorosis than those suggested by the York review’.

In fluoridated Newcastle, 0.1% of children had severe fluorosis (and a further 1% had moderate fluorosis) – compared with 0.2% and zero in unfluoridated Manchester.

Earl Howe said: ‘Pending that review, we are advised by PHE that there is no credible scientific evidence that water fluoridation at one part per million, the target level for water fluoridation schemes in England, or fluoridated toothpaste, is a cause of general ill health.’

A PHE spokesman said it was too soon to say what changes would be made to the advice, but added: ‘The York review is an important source of information.’

By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick

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