Scope and purpose: The systematic review was commissioned by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to evaluate the scientific literature relating to the health effects of fluoride and fluoridation. The systematic review's research questions relate to the caries-reducing benefits and associated potential health risks of providing fluoride systemically (via addition to water, milk and salt) and the use of topical fluoride agents, such as toothpaste, gel, varnish and mouthrinse. Although the review summarises the recent evidence, it does not constitute health policy or clinical practice recommendations.
Data sources: A literature search was undertaken using the Medline and Embase databases (via www.embase.com). In addition, the Cochrane Systematic Review and Clinical Trial databases were searched to help identify additional systematic reviews and original studies. Because of the availability of recent systematic reviews, searches were limited to publications from 1996 onwards . The search was conducted in December 2006 and limited to English-language publications.
Study selection: Based on types of intervention (individual or population) and the outcomes assessed (efficacy or safety), the hierarchy of study types considered most relevant for answering each of the clinical questions defined in this review was chosen (Table 1). The levels of evidence used by NHMRC for intervention and aetiological studies are summarised in Table 2.
Data extraction and synthesis: Screening of eligible studies was conducted by three reviewers. Data were extracted for all of the included systematic reviews and individual studies using standardised data-extraction forms. This included information about the study design, NHMRC level of evidence, population, intervention, comparator, outcome definitions and results. Information relating to potential biases and study quality were also extracted. Where appropriate, study results were pooled using standard meta-analysis techniques.
Results: In total, 5418 nonduplicate citations were identified. After applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 408 citations were considered potentially eligible for inclusion in the review. After the review of the full papers of potentially eligible articles, 77 citations were included in the review. The summary of findings was presented in the context of the research questions (Table 3).
Recommendations: Fluoridation of drinking water remains the most effective and socially equitable means of achieving community-wide exposure to the caries prevention effects of fluoride. It is recommended (see also www.nhmrc.gov.au/news/media/rel07/_files/fluoride_flyer.pdf) that water be fluoridated in the target range of 0.6-1.1 mg/l, depending on the climate, to balance reduction of dental caries and occurrence of dental fluorosis.n particular with reference to care in hospital for those following stroke.