Cornwall Council is likely to ask South West Water (SWW) to add fluoride to the Duchy’s drinking water in a bid to help tackle the growing lack of NHS dental care for children.

The request was made at this week’s full council meeting in Truro by the local authority’s Conservative portfolio holder for health, Cllr Andy Virr, who is also an emergency department consultant at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.

He suggested the move as an amendment to a motion brought by independent councillor Jim McKenna for the council to do more to seek the reinstatement of dental services for school-age children in Cornwall.

Fluoridating water reduces dental decay, and fluoridated water is currently supplied to ten per cent of the population in England, the majority of which (92 per cent) receive it as part of a fluoridation scheme. The remaining eight per cent receive it because it occurs naturally in some water sources. There isn’t currently a fluoridation scheme in Cornwall.

Cllr McKenna’s suggestion that council leader Cllr Linda Taylor writes to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health, and that Cornwall’s six MPs are asked to use their influence to help secure more dentistry for Cornish children, went down well with fellow councillors.

He also asked that Cllr Taylor strongly encourages the Cornwall Integrated Care Board (ICB), through its commissioning responsibilities, to target resources on improving access to dental services for pupils throughout the county.

The motion was inspired by a petition set up in January by a Cornish mother of two school-age children who had found it impossible to source dental treatment for her children without paying for private dental care.

Cllr McKenna said: “Last year, 54.6 per cent of under-18s were unable to access dental treatment in Cornwall. The percentage of tooth decay in Year 6 children here in the Duchy was 26.3 per cent, compared to the South West average of just over 12 per cent.

“Perhaps most worryingly of all, the extraction of teeth continues to be the most common reason for children aged between six and ten to require urgent medical admission to hospital.”

He pointed out the severe shortage of general access to NHS dentistry throughout Cornwall, meaning that residents can either try to access the emergency dental service which is limited and heavily oversubscribed, be forced to pay for private treatment or simply not have treatment at all.

The council was told there has been positive movement with the announcement last month that the local authority, Smile Together Dental CIC and Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise have teamed up to improve the oral health of children aged between nine months and five years across Cornwall, with three new programmes.

This £149,000 initiative, sponsored by Go Cornwall Bus Company, will help thousands of younger children in Cornwall to have better oral health and will hopefully result in a significant reduction in emergency hospital treatment.

Cllr Philip Desmonde, who seconded the motion, praised the above initiative but added: “The bad news is inadequate or non-existent NHS dental treatment for children of school age. This is leading to far too many children going to hospital for tooth extraction.”

He added that only 14 per cent of dentists carried out NHS work nationally, with 42 per cent working 30 hours per week or less. “This is scandalous.” he said. “There is a very clear resource problem.”

He said BUPA Dental Care had closed its Liskeard practice, leaving only practices in Bude, Launceston and Penzance. “In Camborne, Redruth, Pool and Hayle there are no NHS dental practices. It is not good enough - things must change.”

Cllr Thalia Marrington said it was a matter which had affected her family personally. “We were kicked off our dentists and it was utterly impossible to get back on. My children got in at a dentist in St Austell but I still haven’t found one. This is something that really affects people who can’t afford to go private. It is going to create a huge inequality.”

Cllr Matt Luke said there wasn’t an entire NHS dentist in Clay Country, an area of high deprivation, and welcomed the recommendation. Cllr Connor Donnithorne said the waiting list for his two-year-old son to see an NHS dentist was “eyewatering – and that’s happening to thousands of families across Cornwall”.

Cllr Virr proposed the amendment recognising the impact fluoridating water can make in terms of reducing dental disease. “It particularly benefits the most vulnerable in our community who may have the worst food, the worst oral hygiene and the worst access to dentistry.”

The motion was carried, as was his amendment that the council supports the addition of fluoride to Cornwall’s drinking water subject to review by the authority’s health scrutiny committee. If it supports the proposal, the council will write to SWW requesting the addition of fluoride to drinking water.