PLAYGROUP leaders are being urged to teach tots how to clean their teeth in a bid to cut tooth decay levels.

But councillors in the Ribble Valley have refused to back down on their stance that fluoride shouldn't be added to water supplies to help tackle the problem.

Today Toni Ashworth, an oral health promoter who works for East Lancashire Community Dental Services under the Primary Care Trust, said it had visited 100 nurseries in East Lancashire to teach children how important it is to clean their teeth.

Members of the the council's community committee reiterated their opposition to fluoridation despite hearing of its benefits from Dr Stephen Morton, director of public health at the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Primary Care Trust.

He pointed to statistics which showed the PCT's area has among the worst rates for tooth decay among five-year-olds in the country. Nearly one in two children suffers from tooth decay. Some 47 per cent of five-year-olds in Hyndburn and Ribble Valley have suffered tooth decay, compared with 31 per cent in Coventry, which does have fluoridated water supplies.

But councillors unanimously backed the arguments of the North West Council against Flouridation, which argued that putting fluoride into the water was tantamount to "forced medication".

Coun Rosemary Elms said: "We should write to the parish councils and urge them to speak to the organisers of playgroups so they teach youngsters how to clean their teeth from the earliest possible age. I know the PCT do run some schemes, but we need to get right into the rural areas, especially where it's hard to access a dentist's."

Coun Mary Robinson, a Clitheroe councillor, added: "Education should certainly be a priority rather than just putting fluoride in the water. Better education in cleaning teeth is the best solution."

Coun Chris Sterry, a Whalley councillor, said: "I think more effort should be made in recruiting dentists in this area to see children rather than forcing medication into the water supply."

Toni Ashworth added: "Nurseries have taken part in the Smile for Life programme, involving tooth-brushing. Advice we give is use a toothpaste for the whole family and limit sugary food."