Adding fluoride to the water supply may be one of the most cost-effective methods of improving the nation's health, researchers say today.

Adding fluoride to the water supply may be one of the most cost-effective methods of improving the nation's health, researchers say today.

Fluoride, which is known to reduce tooth decay, also increases the density of the bones and cuts the risk of hip fractures in the elderly, they say.

More than one million people in the European Union annually suffer fractures due to the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis and the number is expected to increase. American scientists, who studied 9,000 women aged over 65, compared bone density and fracture rates in those exposed to fluoride for at least 20 years with those who were not.

They found women with continuous exposure had a 31 per cent reduced risk of hip fracture and a 27 per cent reduced risk of vertebral fracture.

Several previous studies have failed to show any benefit from fluoridation in relation to fractures. The authors, from Oregon Health Sciences University, say in the British Medical Journal that those studies suffered from design flaws and did not follow the experience of individual women.

One in three women and one in 12 men suffer from osteoporosis during their lifetime and the problem is expected to get worse with the ageing of the population.

The report's authors say their findings could "have enormous importance for public health".

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