A pilot project in Scotland is being drawn up to study the effect of adding low levels of fluoride to salt in what is hoped would be a cheap and effective way of tackling a major public health problem.
On average, children in the UK have 2.5 decayed teeth by the age of 15: in Scotland the figure is 4.2 teeth. Around 10 per cent of households in Britain - 5.5 million people - have fluoridated water supplies at the moment to help combat decay.
But in Scotland no supplies are fluoridated and officials estimate 40 per cent of the population would be left out of any programme to add it to the water because many of the small water companies there would not find it cost-effective to add the chemical.
Health officials are turning to salt, which has been fluoridated on some parts of the Continent for 40 years, as a possible alternative.
However, they are worried the move could encourage Scots to eat more salt leading to problems of increased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in a country which already has one of the worst diet records in Europe.
Officials are asking the World Health Organisation to carry out a pilot study to see whether adding fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel and guards against plaque, would lead to raised salt intakes.
In Sandwell, West Midlands, where fluoride was added to water in 1988, tooth decay in five-year-olds has fallen by half.The introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the early 1970s has also had a huge impact on the number of childhood cavities.Reuse content