BFS welcomes Ministerial intention to proceed with Community Water Fluoridation

The Chair of the British Fluoridation Society (BFS), Dr Barry Cockcroft CBE, has welcomed a statement made by the Minister of State for the Department of Health and Social Care Will Quince, of his intention to proceed with increasing the coverage of community water fluoridation schemes in North East England.

The announcement was made during the Minister’s speech to a committee debate on ‘Draft Water Fluoridation Consultation Regulations 2022’ on Monday 24 October.

The Minister said: “One element in deciding whether we proceed with a water fluoridation proposal is of course a cost-benefit analysis of said proposal, and any new proposal would have to demonstrate that the benefit to health represents good value for the investment of public money being proposed.

“Where the conditions are met, we want more of the country to benefit from water fluoridation. I am pleased to announce that, subject to the outcome of this debate and any future consultations, funding has been secured to begin expansion across the North East into Northumberland, County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside and Teesside, including Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington and Middlesbrough. I know that the local authorities in those areas are strong supporters of water fluoridation.”

Speaking following the announcement, BFS Chair Dr Barry Cockcroft said: “We welcome Minster Quince’s positive statement, which is an indication that the Government is serious in its intention to widen the coverage of water fluoridation, starting with a public consultation on its proposals for expansion across the North East of England next year.

“This is a hugely positive development for organisations like the BFS, dentists and oral health practitioners up and down the country, who have been campaigning for the introduction of more schemes to prevent tooth decay and unnecessary suffering in our communities due to poor oral health. The BFS is keen to give its support when public consultation events on the proposals are held locally.

“As the Minister stated, the expansion will enable an additional 1.6 million people to benefit from water fluoridation. It will help to reduce the levels of tooth decay in the area and, over time, reduce the numbers of children who need to be admitted to hospital for tooth extractions because of decay. As children in more deprived areas are at greater risk of tooth decay, expansion will help to level up dental health for the children and families who need it most.”

BFS: Growing positivity for water fluoridation in Twittersphere

Positivity on the topic of water fluoridation is growing on Twitter where the number of supporters has grown from nil to 19% in five years. By contrast, Facebook is a platform where opposition to water fluoridation has remained constant.

These are among the conclusions drawn from a paper which compares identical studies analysing social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Carried out five years apart, in 2015 and 2021, the studies looked at the public’s perception of water fluoridation as expressed on social media. Accounts were divided into three groups, supportive, ante or neutral to water fluoridation.

It’s a topic which invokes strong feelings, with libertarians opposing the view that fluoride should be added to drinking water supplies alongside other chemicals that prevent disease, such as chlorine, which protects from cholera and typhoid. This is counter to the view of most healthcare organisations, especially dental, which support all measures designed to improve health through universal measures.

BFS member Rebecca Linney undertook the 2015 study as part of her dental degree to understand how social media was being used by campaigners. She was fascinated by the topic because she comes from Liverpool where the water is not fluoridated but undertook her dental degree in fluoridated Birmingham.

In March of this year she repeated the study to test whether there had been a change in perceptions. A key finding of her comparison is that today, 19% of Twitter accounts featuring water fluoridation support the public health measure whereas in 2015 there were no pro water fluoridation accounts at all.

Dr Linney’s other key findings are:

  • Facebook continues to be the platform where there is most negativity around water fluoridation
  • The number of anti water fluoridation pages on Facebook has increased but the number of anti water fluoridation groups has decreased
  • There are more pro-fluoridation events on Facebook
  • Today there are fewer Twitter accounts which could be described as uncategorised or neutral in relation to water fluoridation

Dr Linney said: ”I was particularly interested to see that there are more events supporting water fluoridation listed on Facebook, indicative of an upsurge of commitment to promoting water fluoridation.

“I can also see that there is now more support on Twitter thanks to the British Fluoridation Society, Public Health England, the Oral Health Foundation and many more organisations using their accounts to post informative statements and links.”

Barry Cockcroft, Chairman of BFS, commented: “This paper is really useful in understanding how important it is to continue to communicate clear and scientific statements about water fluoridation. The fact is, unless we keep active on social media, opponents will fill that vacuum. This is a most valuable piece of work.“