Rotorua enters fluoride battlefield

00:18, Jun 23 2014

Rotorua is set to become the country's next fluoride battleground - and the issue is setting teeth on edge, even before it gets opened to public say.

Rotorua District Council has agreed to undertake public consultation over whether to add fluoride to the Rotorua water supply.

Water fluoridation has the backing of the Lakes District Health Board, with acting chief executive Nick Saville-Wood writing to council chief executive Geoff Williams to support the move.

"I can confirm the DHB pro-fluoridation policy," Saville-Wood said.

"The evidence on the benefits of water fluoridation is indisputable. It is highly effective, safe, cost-saving and is the single most effective measure to prevent dental caries [tooth decay] and improve oral health across all sectors of society. In this respect it is a significant contributor to health equity."

Saville-Wood said the oral health of the Rotorua population was "significantly worse than the rest of New Zealand, with particularly poor dental health among our children."

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David Crum, the chief executive of the New Zealand Dental Association, also supported fluoridation. "The people that need it the most will get the most benefit from fluoride. That's proven. It is safe and it's effective, cost effective as well. It greatly reduces dental decay. There's just so much evidence to show that, it's scaremongering to suggest otherwise," he said.

However, some Rotorua dentists disagreed.

"It's mass medication but you've got no control," said Lumino The Dentists' Johannes Van Der Welt.

"Some people drink a lot of water because they're physically active and others don't drink water at all. The fluoride in water fluoridation is closer to toxic waste, it's not the kind of fluoride that's natural in water."

Van Der Welt said the best way to tackle Rotorua's oral health problems was through education in schools.

"It's controlled and a specific group when they really need it, and it's much more cost effective," he said.

P Tasker Dental's Ross Tukaki also favoured education over water fluoridation.

"It'd be better to improve health to teach our kids to look after themselves rather than take the easy way out, putting it in water," he said.

"A toothbrush and toothpaste does exactly the same thing," he said.

Saville-Wood also used Taupo as an example of a fluoridated area where oral health was better than Rotorua, something disputed by Taupo dentist Trevor Strange.

"The reality is it hasn't done what it's purported to do. The rates of decay have not gone down, that's the reality."

Meanwhile, The fluoridation of Hamilton's water supply could resume as soon as early July depending on the outcome of a hearing in the High Court set down for this week. Following a public poll that returned 70 per cent support for the continuation of the treatment of Hamilton's water supply with fluoride, the Hamilton City Council had moved to resume the practice which had been halted last year after 50 years.

Safe Water Alternative New Zealand (Swanz) applied to the High Court to stop this move until the group's court challenge to the resumption of fluoridation is heard.

Hamilton City Council said if Swanz's application was refused, fluoridation of the city's water supply will resume. 

Waikato