'Children pay price for flouride-free water'
Northern Ireland children pay the price for fluoride-free water in extra decayed teeth, the chief nursing officer warned yesterday.
The Republic of Ireland uses the chemical in the mains supply and enjoys a better youth dental record, Martin Bradley added.
Local politicians rejected the measure over a decade ago because they believed it was best to minimise the amount of non-essential additives in water.
There had been related health concerns, but medical evidence largely allayed those fears, according to health professionals.
Mr Bradley said: "Fluoride is a big public health lever which we have great difficulty in pulling and it does make a difference."
He was addressing a nursing conference at Queen's University Belfast.
In the Republic there is a decay rate of one tooth per child compared to over two in Northern Ireland, one of the worst in Europe.
Opponents warned using fluoride amounts to mass medication.
In England and Wales they claimed fluoride can cause a range of problems, from tooth mottling to cancer, and threatened to mount a legal challenge on human rights grounds.
The British Dental Association (BDA) was among those calling for the change.
Alternatives to adding fluoride to the water supply include encouraging people to buy toothpaste with the substance and using a fluoride varnish on children's teeth before they develop cavities.
However, the poorest groups are least likely to attend a dentist despite having the worst dental records.
Young people are more susceptible to the destructive bacteria because they build up resistance as they get older and tend to eat more sugary foods at an early age. However older people are also eating more sweet foods.
Professionals estimate it costs £60 million a year in Northern Ireland to repair decayed teeth and if fluoride was used in the water it would cut that rate by 40%, producing a saving worth over £20 million.