Effective prevention against tooth decay and a victory for the environment

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with University College London, have demonstrated for the first time the small environmental footprint of water fluoridation compared to other preventive measures against tooth decay. The study is published in the British Dental Journal today [Monday 29th August 2022].

Water fluoridation is considered one of the most important public health interventions of the 20th century. But as the climate crisis deepens, the contribution of health care and disease prevention to the crisis must be considered. Action is urgent.

Influenced by this urgency, researchers quantified the environmental impact of water fluoridation for a five-year-old child over a one-year period and compared it to the traditional use of fluoride varnish programs and toothbrushing, which take place at selected schools across the UK. , and internationally.

Today, more than 35% of the world’s population has access to water fluoridation, with studies showing significant reductions in dental caries. While data on the clinical effectiveness and cost analysis of water fluoridation are available, there has been no data regarding its environmental impact to date.

To quantify this impact, the research team performed a life cycle analysis (LCA) by carefully measuring the combined trip, weight and quantities of all products and processes involved in the three prevention programs (brushing teeth, fluoride varnish programs and water fluoridation). The data was entered into a specific environmental program (OpenLCA) and the team used the Ecoinvent database allowing them to calculate environmental results, including the carbon footprint, the amount of water used for each product and the amount of land use.

The results of the study, led by Brett Duane, associate professor of dental public health at Trinity College, concluded that water fluoridation had the lowest environmental impact of all categories studied and had the lowest impact on disability-adjusted life years compared to all other community-based caries prevention programs. The study also found that water fluoridation gives the best return on investment.

Considering the balance between clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and environmental sustainability, researchers believe that water fluoridation should be the preventive intervention of choice.

This research strengthens the international case for water fluoridation programs to reduce tooth decay, especially in the most vulnerable populations.

Associate Professor Duane said:

“As the climate crisis begins to deepen, we must find ways to prevent disease in order to reduce the environmental impact of our health systems. This research clearly demonstrates the low carbon impact of water fluoridation by as an effective prevention tool.”

Professor Paul Ashley, Clinical Lecturer (Honorary NHS Consultant), UCL Eastman Dental Institute added:

“Renewed efforts must be made to increase access to this intervention.”

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Material provided by Trinity College Dublin. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.