Wednesday, 7 April 2004

Ceisteanna (48)

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

40 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Government intends to carry out checks on fluoride levels in the blood of Irish persons; the reason this has not been done to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10818/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy is aware, I established the forum on fluoridation to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. The forum's report was launched on 10 September 2002 and its main conclusion was that the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure.

The forum also concluded that: water fluoridation has been very effective in improving the oral health of the population, especially of children, but also of adults and the elderly; the best available and most reliable scientific evidence indicates that at the maximum permitted level of fluoride in drinking water at one part per million, human health is not adversely affected; and dental fluorosis, a form of discoloration of the tooth enamel, is a well-recognised condition and an indicator of overall fluoride absorption, whether from natural sources, fluoridated water or from the inappropriate use of fluoride toothpaste at a young age. There is evidence that the prevalence of dental fluorosis is increasing in Ireland.

In all, the report of the fluoridation forum made 33 recommendations covering a broad range of topics such as research, public awareness, and policy and technical aspects of fluoridation. The establishment of the expert body recommended by the forum is now well under way. I am pleased to announce that the chairperson of the expert body is Dr. Seamus O'Hickey, former chief dental officer with my Department. Dr. O'Hickey's mix of scientific knowledge, awareness of fluoridation issues and experience of administrative issues leave him well placed to chair the body. I understand that the intention is to have an inaugural meeting of the expert body at the end of this month.

The terms of reference of the expert body are: to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issues, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; and to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his or her request or on own initiative.

The expert body is to have broad representation, including from the areas of dentistry, public health medicine, toxicology, engineering, management, environment and the public as identified within the forum on fluoridation report. Letters of invitation have been issued to prospective members of the body. I am pleased to say that the body will have a strong consumer input in terms of members of the public and representatives of consumer interests, in addition to the necessary scientific, managerial and public health inputs.

The secretariat of the body will be provided by the Dental Health Foundation, an independent charitable trust which has been very much to the fore in securing co-operation between private and public dentistry and the oral health care industry in regard to joint oral heath promotion initiatives. The foundation's stature and expertise place it in an excellent position to support the work of the forum in its initial stage. The forum's report envisages that the work of the expert body may be subsumed into the health information and quality authority, HIQA, in due course. The support of the foundation allows us to press ahead now with the establishment of the expert body in advance of the establishment of HIQA.

A research project on fluoride delivery systems, which includes an investigation into fluoride intake in the population, is currently being undertaken at the oral health services research centre, OHSRC, in University College Cork.

As part of this project, the OHSRC is developing methods to be used when measuring fluoride ingestion in the population. One of the areas of research being pursued is the development of standardised methods for measuring fluoride content of samples of saliva, urine, serum, fingernail clippings and mineralised tissues. These studies are being undertaken in close collaboration with researchers in Europe and the US in order to make sure that the methods being used conform to international standards. The final outcomes of this project, and all ongoing research related to fluoride, will be evaluated by the expert body.