Health data from New Zealand preschoolers is to be used to try to establish whether fluoride impedes child development.
University of Otago child health researcher Prof Barry Taylor said yesterday he was organising a multi-disciplinary team for a descriptive study using B4 School Check data.
Access to the information should be straightforward, pending the usual ethics approvals.
It was hoped results would be released within nine months.
The study would not look at whether fluoridation prevented tooth decay.
Prof Taylor said the evidence did not support fears of adverse developmental effects, and he suspected the planned study would not show these effects.
However, academics should not have closed minds.
"There have been many things in medicine that have not always turned out the way people want them to turn out. So, I always have doubt, about everything.
"Our plan is to pull together - some moves have already been made - a working group to look at the B4 School data from the point of view of what we can tell with New Zealand children about their development compared to their fluoride exposure."
He believed the study was the first of its kind in New Zealand.
The fluoride debate re-ignited this year when the Hamilton City Council voted to remove it from the city's water supply. In May, the Dunedin City Council reduced the level of fluoride being added to the city's supply from 0.85mg per litre to 0.75mg per litre.
Prof Taylor said "dodgy data" from overseas was being used in the public debate by opponents to support claims of harm.
"What we need is a much more careful look at the data sets available in our country to see whether or not any of the things that have been said actually hold. I suspect they don't, but we've got to prove it one way or [the other]."
There was no doubt fluoride improved dental health: "The issue is does it have any other unexpected side effects?"
Fluoride Action Network New Zealand national co-ordinator Mary Byrne said her group only highlighted published studies. Because studies could have flaws in terms of the quality of data, the group highlighted meta-analysis research which examined multiple studies.
Ms Byrne was pleased to hear about the new study, as there was a lack of New Zealand research into developmental effects.
She hoped the study would distinguish bottle-fed children from breast-fed, as the latter ingested less fluoride.
*The B4 School Check is a nationwide free health and development check for four-year-old children.