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Wed 12 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Minister sets sights on urban decay

Britain's health secretary Alan Johnson has called for fluoride to be added to the country's water supplies, in a bid to cut the national level of tooth decay.

Britain's health secretary Alan Johnson has called for fluoride to be added to the country's water supplies, in a bid to cut the national level of tooth decay.

Six million people in England, mainly in the North-east and Midlands, currently receive water with added fluoride.

Mr Johnson said children in Manchester, where water is not fluoridated, were twice as likely to have tooth decay as those in Birmingham, where it is added.

Citing a review of evidence by York University, he said that adding fluoride could reduce the number of children with tooth decay by 15%.

"It is an effective and relatively easy way to help address health inequalities - giving children from poorer backgrounds a dental health boost that can last a lifetime, reducing tooth decay and thereby cutting down on the amount of dental work they need."

Over the next three years, £14 million will be available to strategic health authorities which will decide, after local consultation, whether to add fluoride to water supplies.

Mr Johnson said: "Fluoridation is scientifically supported, it is legal, and it is our policy... but only two or three areas currently have it."

It is thought the government wants to encourage debate on the subject rather than oblige water companies to act. In 2003, MPs approved legislation to make it easier for fluoride to be added to drinking water in England and Wales.

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