Health officials alarmed as fluoridation voted out

OPEN WIDE: Dentist Dr Steven Pawley says he will see more tooth decay now that the Hamilton City Council has voted to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply.
OPEN WIDE: Dentist Dr Steven Pawley says he will see more tooth decay now that the Hamilton City Council has voted to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply.

Health authorities say removing fluoride from Hamilton's water will result in at least half a million dollars of extra dental treatment costs in the city every year.

In a major victory for the anti-fluoride lobby yesterday the city council voted by 7-1 to make Hamilton the second-largest unfluoridated city in the country.

But health officials predict hundreds of residents will unnecessarily endure tooth decay and need treatment when fluoride is no longer added, by June 21.

Fluoride Free Hamilton co-ordinator Pat McNair was "ecstatic" at the decision and congratulated the city council on its "courage" in considering the issue.

She described the tribunal as the most comprehensive review of fluoridation ever undertaken in New Zealand, and tipped other councils would follow.

But New Zealand Dental Association president Geoff Lingard said the "crazy" decision was one the city would rue: "Hamilton is going to regret this. It will increase poor oral health. . . It's going to hit people in the pocket, or there'll be more people unable to afford care. There isn't a reputable health body in the world that doesn't support water fluoridation as a safe and effective means of reducing tooth decay."

He was concerned that other councils would follow Hamilton's lead.

Mr Lingard also criticised three councillors who were also district health board members for removing themselves from the debate: "I thought their primary interest was to provide and protect public health. I find that very disappointing."

Waikato medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble said the seven council members who voted fluoride out had "discounted the mainstream opinion of the vast majority of dentists and doctors in Hamilton and in New Zealand".

"They instead listened to a highly vocal minority, many of whom are not Hamilton residents, and as a result the oral health of Hamilton residents will suffer, dental decay will increase and DHB dental services will be stretched."

Mayor Julie Hardaker said the council would be writing to Health Minister Tony Ryall, asking the government to make the decision on fluoride.

"This is a matter for central government - not a local government job.

Dr Dumble said a conservative estimate of the impact on Hamilton residents was an extra 2000 cavities and fillings per year, some of which would need to be done under general anaesthetic.

The decision, reached after less than an hours' debate, followed a lengthy tribunal which heard the weight of public submissions, many from outside the city, argue for the removal of hydrofluorosilicic acid from the water supply.

It overturns the outcome of a binding referendum in 2006 which saw 38 per cent of eligible Hamilton voters, more than typically vote in council elections, overwhelmingly ask for fluoridation of the city's water to be continued.

Just over half of New Zealand's population has access to fluoridated water.

New Plymouth District Council voted in October to end fluoridation, joining Tauranga, Whanganui, Rotorua, Whangarei, Timaru, Nelson, Greymouth and Napier.

Christchurch is the only other major city without fluoridated water.


A Hamilton dentist says taking fluoride from the city's water is like taking away the body's dental repair kit.

Dr Steven Pawley is a community dentist in Hillcrest, and says he cannot believe the city council has gone against prevailing research in removing fluoride.

"From all the research and what's happened in the past, it's going to have a huge detrimental effect on basically everybody with teeth in Hamilton, from the young through to the very old.

"Fluoride is like the repair kit of the tooth, so taking away that component . . . what happens is you get decay. The enamel doesn't repair itself like it does with fluoride in water."

He said a lot of the concerns raised by opponents to having fluoride in water was based on "bad science" and that high-quality research had dismissed most of the concerns.

Earlier this year New York-based Dr Paul Connett, the author of The Case Against Fluoride, argued during a visit to Hamilton that fluorinated water causes brittle bones and can lead to brain damage.

Dr Pawley said the "mass medication" argument that fluoride could be harmful to some people didn't stack up. "Common sense tells you, we've had it in our water for nearly 50 years in Hamilton and our health statistics are the same as other areas that don't have fluoride so if it was going to come about it would have come about by now surely."

He said removing the fluoride would lead to more tooth decay, dental disease, and extractions, and said the poor, and Maori and Pasifika would be hardest hit.

"Sometimes you do things for the greater good of everybody, and water fluoridation comes under that umbrella as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Waikato Times