CHILLED mineral water could become part of daily school life as health and education chiefs look towards improving youngsters' diets.

On Tuesday, a representative from Northumbrian Spring of Darlington was invited to talk to members of the oral healthcare of children in Darlington review group.

The group - a working party of the borough council's social affairs and health scrutiny committee - was formed last year to help reduce dental decay in youngsters across the borough.

The move followed a national survey which put the town among the worst in the country for child dental decay.

Solutions already in the pipeline include the use of fluoridated milk in nurseries and infants' schools - a move which experts claim would bring dual benefits - and a campaign to encourage youngsters to brush their teeth twice a day.

This week, the benefits of natural spring water, which also contains a source of fluoride, was heard by the review group with the possibility of a pilot water scheme being introduced into one of the town's schools.

Barbara Kendall, commercial manager of Northumbrian Spring, told the D&S Times that access to fresh water was very important.

She said: "Studies have proved that youngsters who drink the recommended daily intake of water concentrate better, perform better and behave better.

"Water is very important to us all but we don't drink enough.

"A lot of schools tend to be older buildings and those built before 1971 will at some point have lead pipes to take the water from source to delivery.

"Natural spring water is bottled at source with nothing added and nothing taken away.

"We are currently analysing the water for its natural fluoride content and believe it will be of great benefit to all school kids."

Mrs Kendall will present the case for water coolers in schools at the next bi-monthly meeting of headmasters. Health chiefs from Darlington Primary Care Trust will also be encouraged to attend.

Nonnie Crawford, director of public health for Darlington PCT, said: "For fluoride to be of benefit in tooth decay, it needs to be evident as one part per million.

"I am not convinced this would be the case for Darlington spring water.

"Fluoridating milk will bring two benefits - help to reduce tooth decay and provide calcium for growing bones.

"However, I do firmly believe that schools should have good quality drinking water available for all pupils and teachers and this is an issue to be considered alongside fluoridated milk.