Is Fluoride in British Water?

Have you ever wondered what’s in your tap water besides H2O? Fluoride in British water is one of the key discussion points. This naturally occurring mineral is added to many public water supplies, a practice that has sparked debates and controversies over the years. 

While some hail fluoride for its dental health benefits, others raise concerns about its safety and ethics. 

In this post, we’ll delve into the presence of fluoride in British water, exploring its history, benefits, and the ongoing debates surrounding its use. Whether you’re a curious consumer or a concerned citizen, this guide aims to provide a balanced view on the topic, helping you make informed decisions about your drinking water.

What is fluoride? 

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in various sources such as soil, water, and certain foods. 

Fluoride is renowned for its role in dental health, particularly in the prevention of tooth decay and cavities. The concentration of fluoride in water can vary significantly across different regions. In some locations, the natural fluoride levels are close to or even exceed the levels targeted by water fluoridation programs.

In addition to natural sources, fluoride is also present in many foods and beverages, though usually in much lower amounts compared to water. Tea, for example, can be a significant dietary source of fluoride. 

What is fluoride used for? 

Fluoride is primarily used to enhance dental health in humans. It is commonly found in local water supplies and various over-the-counter products, including:

  • Toothpaste
  • Mouth rinses
  • Supplements

Additionally, fluoride has several other applications, including:

  • Medical imaging scans
  • As a cleaning product
  • Can be used in pesticides 
  • In the production of aluminium, steel and Teflon products 

Fluoridation in the UK

The UK government has recognised the benefits of fluoride in British water as a public health measure aimed at reducing tooth decay. The policy framework for water fluoridation in the UK is established through various legislative acts and guidelines that support and regulate its implementation. The primary responsibility for fluoridation schemes lies with local authorities, which can propose and manage these schemes in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and water companies.

The UK government promotes water fluoridation as a cost-effective measure to improve dental health, particularly in areas with higher rates of tooth decay. Fluoridation is supported by numerous public health organisations, including the British Dental Association (BDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as a safe and effective method to prevent dental decay across different population groups.

Current Fluoridation Status 

Water fluoridation in the UK is not uniformly implemented across the entire country. The decision to fluoridate water supplies is made at the local level, leading to regional variations in the presence and concentration of fluoride in public water systems.

As of the latest data, approximately 10% of the population in England receives fluoridated water. This includes areas where fluoride is added to the water supply and regions where natural fluoride levels are sufficiently high.

Benefits of fluoridated water 

Dental Health 

Extensive scientific research has consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of fluoride in British water in preventing tooth decay. By remineralising enamel, fluoride strengthens teeth’s defences against acidic oral sweets and plaque microorganisms. Additionally, it can undo early tooth decay indicators.

  • A review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 35% in baby teeth and 26% in permanent teeth, with a significant reduction in cavities across all age groups.
  • World Health Organization (WHO): WHO supports water fluoridation as a safe and effective way to prevent dental caries. They highlight that fluoride helps to rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel, reversing the early stages of tooth decay.


Water fluoridation is not only beneficial for dental health but also cost-effective. It offers substantial economic savings by reducing the need for dental treatments and the associated healthcare costs.

Public Health England (PHE) reports that for every £1 spent on water fluoridation, £12 is saved in dental treatment costs. This includes savings from fewer dental fillings, extractions, and emergency dental treatments.

Is fluoride safe? 

There have been concerns that fluoride may be associated with various health conditions. However, extensive reviews of the potential risks have found no compelling evidence to substantiate these claims.

Key issues include:

  • Dental Fluorosis: This condition, caused by excessive fluoride intake during childhood, results in discolouration and mottling of the teeth. It is usually mild and primarily an aesthetic issue, but severe cases can lead to tooth enamel damage.
  • Skeletal Fluorosis: Long-term exposure to high levels of fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis, a condition that results in pain and damage to bones and joints. This is rare in areas with controlled fluoridation levels.
  • Potential Neurodevelopmental Effects: Some studies have suggested a possible link between high fluoride exposure and lower IQ in children. However, these studies often involve fluoride levels significantly higher than those used in community water fluoridation programs.
  • Thyroid Function: Excessive fluoride exposure has been associated with thyroid dysfunction, including hypothyroidism. This risk is generally linked to very high levels of the mineral, which is not typical of the fluoride in British water. 

Fluoride in British water supplies offers significant dental health benefits by reducing tooth decay and improving oral health, particularly in fluoridated communities. While there are concerns about potential health risks, such as dental fluorosis, these are minimal due to strict regulation and monitoring by the Drinking Water Inspectorate. Overall, the practice remains a cost-effective public health measure, contributing to reduced dental health disparities and lower treatment costs, with scientific evidence and public health authorities supporting its continued use.