A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers from the University of Manchester has revealed that existing water fluoridation programs in England only provide marginal savings for the NHS. The study, which is the largest ever conducted on the effects of water fluoridation on adult dental health, found that while these programs did lead to a reduction in invasive dental treatments and tooth decay, there was no evidence to suggest that they reduced social inequalities in dental health.
The study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, analyzed data from 6.4 million adults and adolescents across England. It estimated that the public sector saved £16.9 million between 2010 and 2020 as a result of water fluoridation. However, the researchers cautioned that there was no guarantee that new schemes would continue to provide these savings.
Fluoridated water has been shown to reduce the need for invasive dental treatments by 3% and decrease the incidence of decayed, missing, and filled teeth by 2% when compared to non-fluoridated water over a 10-year period. However, the study did not find any significant difference in the number of missing teeth between the two groups.
Approximately six million people in England live in areas that receive fluoridated water to prevent tooth decay. Despite this, the study highlights the need for further research to understand the benefits of water fluoridation in adults, particularly as more people are keeping their teeth into old age.
The study also revealed that over the 10-year period studied, the cost of water fluoridation was £10.30 per person. This led to a 5.5% reduction in NHS treatment costs and a 2% decrease in dental charges for patients.
However, the researchers cautioned that the costs of setting up new water fluoridation schemes could be significant, with estimates suggesting it would take 30 years to recover the costs of a scheme covering a similar number of people. Additionally, future generations may not require as much dental treatment as their predecessors, potentially affecting the cost-recovery of these schemes.
Lead author Dr. Deborah Moore emphasized the importance of evaluating the costs and benefits of water fluoridation, particularly in light of the availability of fluoride toothpastes and other preventive measures. While water fluoridation has been hailed as a significant public health achievement, Dr. Moore stressed the need to also address sugar consumption, which is a major contributor to tooth decay.
In conclusion, while water fluoridation programs in England have resulted in some savings for the NHS, the study highlights the need for further research and cost-benefit analysis to determine the future viability of these schemes. The findings also emphasize the importance of addressing sugar consumption as a preventive measure against tooth decay.