The North East has been earmarked for the "biggest expansion of water fluoridation" in England since the 1980s, officials have said, in an effort to reduce tooth decay in the most deprived areas. 

The NHS Dental Recovery Plan outlines that a programme of water fluoridation will expand across the North East – Northumberland, County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside and Teesside, including Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington and Middlesbrough.

This would lead to an additional 1.6 million people having fluoride – a naturally occurring mineral found in water and some foods – added to their water, constituting the biggest increase since the 80s. 

This aims to reduce the number of tooth extractions due to decay, particularly in deprived areas.

The amount of naturally occurring fluoride in water varies across the country and, in the early 20th century, researchers found that people had less tooth decay in areas with higher fluoride levels in the drinking water.

UK schemes involving adding fluoride to water date back to the 1960s, starting in the Midlands.

Around 10% of people in England currently have fluoride added to their drinking water – mostly in the West Midlands and the North East, including Newcastle and Gateshead.

The NHS Dental Recovery Plan states: “Our long-term ambition is to systematically bring fluoridation to more of the country, with a particular focus on the most deprived areas, which stand to benefit most from fluoridation.”

England’s interim chief dental officer, Jason Wong, wrote in the foreword of the document: “The consultation on expanding water fluoridation in some parts of England is an opportunity to improve the oral health of communities for generations to come.”

This comes as new data has revealed the number of children in hospital with rotting teeth has jumped by 17 per cent. 

New figures from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) show there were 47,581 tooth extractions in NHS hospitals in England for patients aged 0 to 19.

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Some 66 per cent of extractions – or 31,165 – were down to a primary diagnosis of tooth decay, up 17 per cent from the previous 12 months.

The figure is the equivalent of 236 per 100,000 people in the age group.

OHID said this “is likely to reflect a continuing recovery of hospital services following the Covid-19 pandemic”.