Fluoridation: the greatest good for the greatest number
EDITORIAL: Who likes having even a good idea shoved down their throat?
Fluoridating community water supplies the length and breadth of the land is a thoroughly good idea for the dental health of the nation.
You've heard otherwise? Argue with these guys: The Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation, New Zealand Medical Association, New Zealand Dental Association, New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine, New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, US Surgeon General, FDI World Dental Federation, British Medical Association, and a host of other outfits that the forces of fluoride fearfulness would have us regard as collectively either inept or corrupt.
Fluoride exists naturally in water, in varying degrees depending on where you are. Ours is one of the countries where it needs to be topped up to levels - naturally occurring elsewhere - where dental benefits have long been evident. Claims that water fluoridation leads to cancers, bone fractures and other serious conditions have been misleading, typically coming from studies in places like parts of the United States and China where the natural levels in local water supplies are problematically high. A different problem entirely.
In New Zealand the choice to fluoridate or not falls on elected territorial councils. In the south only Invercargill and Dunedin city councils fluoridate.
The Government says, not without cause, that this is essentially a health issue so it is now vesting health boards with authority to make decisions on community fluoridation.
This would be a case of health boards effectively requiring councils to spend money. Acknowledging this, the Government has set aside $12 million help fund the infrastructure needed for new fluoridation capacities. If that proves insufficient, councils are entitled to public support pressuring the Government to stump up properly, much as that means you end up paying through your taxes rather than your rates. There should still be a net saving to the nation, through lower public health costs from the dental carnage to our children, in particular.
Nobody pretends that fluoridation alone will counter problems of dietary bad habits and insufficient brushing, but it's is a significant move for the benefit, potentially, of more than 1.4 million of us.
The greater difficulty is that although the health case for fluoridated supply is proven, the imposition of fluoridated water will have civil libertarians spitting mad.
Is this medication by compulsion? Not quite, although dissenters wanting to eschew consuming tapwater would surely resent the extra cost and awkwardness.
Even so, we settle on the view that fluoridation satisfies the test of providing the greatest good for the greatest number.