HUNDREDS of primary school children across south Durham are being offered free fluoridated milk to try to reduce tooth decay.

Seven schools in the Sedgefield area - where more than two-thirds of pupils had experienced dental disease - were targeted by the Sedgefield Primary Care Trust (PCT) and six are already taking part.

The trust says that parents are being given the choice whether they want their children to be given the treated milk, which is ordinary whole milk with 0.5mg of fluoride added to a 189ml carton.

The 621 pupils receiving the drink in North Park, Elmfield, Cleves Cross, Tudhoe Colliery, Trimdon Village and St Joseph's primaries represents a 70 per cent uptake.

The PCT is funding the project for the next five years and hopes to see a reduction in tooth decay by 2010.

Alyson Learmouth, the PCT's director of public health, said: "It is one of the key recommendations in the PCT's oral health strategy that we offer the choice of fluoridated milk to local children with the aim of improving their oral health.

"The PCT believes that, through this project, children in the Sedgefield area will have the benefit of fluoride to tackle inequalities in oral health but will also receive all of the nutritional benefits from drinking milk."

Anti-fluoride campaigners claim that the benefits of the chemical are unproven, while a study published last summer alleges that adding it to tap water can increase the risk of bone cancer in young boys.