In Australia, fluoride is added to our water supplies to help to reduce tooth decay. In 2016 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) reviewed the scientific research on water fluoridation.
Community water fluoridation is the adjustment of fluoride in drinking water to reach a level that can help to reduce tooth decay.
In Australia, community water fluoridation programs are considered a safe and effective way of reducing tooth decay across the population. Tooth decay is one of the most common health problems in Australia. It can cause pain, difficulty eating and sleeping, and may make people feel unhappy about their appearance. In Australia, dental health has improved since water fluoridation began in the 1950s. Compared to their parents’ generation, Australians born after 1970 (when the majority of water fluoridation programs commenced in Australia) have about half the level of tooth decay.1
Along with a combination of healthy diet, good oral hygiene, appropriate use of fluoridated toothpaste and regular dental check-ups, water fluoridation is an effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.
In 2016 NHMRC finished a thorough review of the latest scientific research relevant to Australia on the potential link between water fluoridation and human health. NHMRC confirmed that community water fluoridation helps to reduce tooth decay, and that there is no reliable evidence that water fluoridation at current Australian levels causes health problems.
NHMRC 2017 Public Statement
In 2017 NHMRC released its Public Statement 2017: Water Fluoridation and Human Health in Australia (2017 Public Statement). This contains NHMRC’s recommendation on community water fluoridation, and a range within which NHMRC supports states and territories fluoridating their drinking water supplies. It reflects the latest evidence from the review mentioned above.
The Fluoride Reference Group - a committee of health, dental and other experts, such as those with expertise in epidemiology, ethics and water management - guided this work.
In 2017, NHMRC released three resources from the review:
- The Information Paper – Water fluoridation: dental and other human health outcomes (Information Paper) presents the key findings of the evidence reviewed and assesses how relevant these findings are for Australia.
- The Evidence Evaluation Report and Technical Report provide further information about the body of evidence underpinning the Information Paper.
Questions and Answers Resource
NHMRC has also published Water Fluoridation and Human Health in Australia: Questions and Answers to support the release of the 2017 Public Statement. NHMRC developed this resource in consultation with state and territory health representatives to assist them to provide nationally consistent messages on water fluoridation to the public.
Open letter from the NHMRC Chief Executive Officer
Professor Anne Kelso AO has written to several local Councils as they vote on the topic of water fluoridation, assuring them of the rigour of the processes used to review the evidence and develop the resources on this webpage. The letter is published here for the use of other Councils.
- Open letter from the NHMRC Chief Executive Officer - see 'Download' section
2007 NHMRC Review
In 2006, NHMRC undertook a systematic review of the evidence for the efficacy and safety of fluoride interventions. This review focused on sources that could be used to deliver fluoride to the Australian community including drinking water, milk, salt and topical fluoride treatments. The review considered possible benefits and harms of these different sources of fluoride. The full reports are available on the Australian Government web archive:
- A Systematic Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Fluoridation Part A - see 'Download' section
- A Systematic Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Fluoridation Part B - see 'Download' section
NHMRC’s 2016 Evidence Evaluation includes and builds on the 2007 NHMRC review.
As a result of the 2007 Systematic Review, NHMRC released the NHMRC Public Statement: The Efficacy and Safety of Fluoridation 2007 (2007 Public Statement) - see 'Download' section. The 2017 Public Statement updates and replaces the 2007 Public Statement to reflect the recent evidence reviewed by NHMRC.
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Australia’s Health 2012: in brief. Cat. no. AUS 157. Canberra: AIHW
For further information please contact NHMRC at firstname.lastname@example.org