Sydney dentistry researches benefits of water fluoridation

1 October 2015

Thousands of children suffer tooth decay due to a failure to ensure water fluoridation.
Despite denials from anti-fluoride lobbyists and government red tape, a new study by University of Sydney researchers confirms the power of water fluoridation to reduce the burden of dental disease in children.

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The study also finds that water fluoridation is an equitable, cost-effective way to cut dental disease among children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds that typically have higher dental disease rates.
Published in the International Journal of Dental Disease, the study assessed water fluoridation’s impact by comparing changes in dental disease among 5- to 7-year-olds in three communities over a four-year period (2008–2012).
Community water fluoridation, also known as artificial water fluoridation, is the addition of fluoride to drinking water with the aim of reducing tooth decay. This public health measure adjusts the natural fluoride concentration of water to that recommended for improving oral health.
In Australia, dental health has improved since water fluoridation began in the 1950s and Australians born after 1970 have, on average, half the level of tooth decay of their parents’ generation.
Key findings
Researchers assessed changes in dental decay in three NSW communities: Wyong (fluoridated), Gosford City (newly fluoridated in 2008) and Byron/Ballina Shires (unfluoridated).

  • At baseline (2008), children in Wyong had a significantly lower level of dental disease than those in unfluoridated communities (Gosford and Byron/Ballina Shires).
  • Two years later (2010), there was no significant difference in the level of dental disease between the two communities with water fluoridation (Wyong and Gosford).
  • Four years later (2012), dental disease in the unfluoridated Byron/Ballina communities was nearly double that of the two communities with water fluoridation (Wyong and Gosford).

Anti-fluoride lobbyists claim water fluoridation is linked to a host of ailments, including low intelligence, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, osteoporosis and cancer.
There is no evidence to back these claims and the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends fluoride for all water supplies, saying it is a proven way to prevent cavities while causing no other ill health effects. Despite this more than 140 large towns across Australia remain without fluoridated water.
Red tape compounds dental decay problem in kids
The study’s lead author, Sydney Faculty of Dentistry Professor Anthony Blinkhorn says the result is “tens of thousands of children across Australia are suffering tooth decay because of the failure to ensure water supplies are fluoridated.
“Under current laws, regional and rural councils have the power to decide whether to fluoridate water supplies, despite the weight of evidence showing fluoride prevents decay and agreement from scientific and medical experts that fluoride is safe.”
While water fluoridation is strongly endorsed and recommended in the National Oral Health Plan, to which all states and territories are signatories, Queensland and NSW leave the decision-­making to local councils in rural and regional areas.
Professor Anthony Blinkhorn is NSW Chair of Population Oral Health at NSW Health and the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Dentistry.

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The Sydney Dental School’s Doctor of Dental Medicine is a graduate-entry program that has been purposefully designed to adhere to the well-rounded course structure of the North American postgraduate model, but has also maintained the sophisticated clinical training for which the University of Sydney has come to be renowned, giving students an applicable knowledge of dental health from the community to the laboratory.
Program: Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: February
Duration: 4 years

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