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No harm from fluoride in water: NHMRC

AAP logoAAP 13/09/2016 Megan Neil

The fluoride in Australia's drinking water does not lower a person's IQ or cause cancer or any other negative health effects, the nation's peak health advice body says.

Analysis of more than 60 years of scientific research and 3000 studies has backed the National Health and Medical Research Council's support for adding fluoride to public drinking supplies as a safe and effective measure for preventing tooth decay.

The review shows there are no health effects or harm under the levels used in Australia, NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said.

"It shows that community water fluoridation as it's used in Australia today is effective at reducing tooth decay and is not associated with any general negative health effects," Prof Kelso said.

The evidence consistently showed no link between water fluoridation at Australian levels and cancer overall, including two forms of bone cancer, the NHMRC's draft information paper released on Wednesday said.

There was also no link with the IQ or cognitive function of children or adults, it said.

NHMRC fluoride reference group member Professor Clive Wright said reports about water fluoridation affecting children's IQ were based on studies undertaken in China that used poor methodology and areas with up to five times as much fluoride in the water compared to Australia.

He said a New Zealand study found no difference in the IQ scores of school-aged children or adults between those exposed to community water fluoridation and those who were not.

Prof Wright said if Australia stopped putting fluoride into public water supplies, it would come at the cost of higher rates of tooth decay in children and adults.

"By preventing tooth decay and all of its associated pain and suffering, community water fluoridation saves money both for individuals, including dental treatments and time off work or school, and the health care system," he said.

HEALTH EFFECTS OF AUSTRALIA'S WATER FLUORIDATION:

* Reduces tooth decay by 26-44 per cent in children, teenagers and adults

* Can be mild or very mild dental fluorosis that can look like white lines on tooth surface; doesn't affect function of teeth

* No association with: cancer; Down syndrome; IQ; mortality; hip fractures; bone cancers osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma

* Insufficient evidence about any association with: chronic kidney disease; heart disease and high blood pressure; kidney stones; low birth weight; osteoporosis and musculoskeletal pain; thyroid function; gastric discomfort, headache, insomnia

* Fluoride occurs naturally in water; many countries have higher levels than in Australia

* Australian target range 0.6-1.1 micrograms per litre.

Source: NHMRC.

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