Beginning of the end for fluoridation

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 14/10/2011
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After more than 40 years of adding fluoride to the district's water the Council has decided to cut it out of the supply
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A bombshell decision to end water fluoridation in New Plymouth is being heralded as the beginning of the end for the practice in New Zealand.

The New Plymouth District Council yesterday voted to stop fluoridation in the district after more than 40 years of adding the chemical to its water to reduce dental decay.

Mary Byrne of anti-fluoride group Fluoride Action Network New Zealand said the decision could lead to a domino effect of other councils rejecting the chemical.

"It has to because we have got New Plymouth and the Ruapehu District Council both deciding to turn it off.

"The other councils don't have a leg to stand on. What this does is legitimise it.

"It will give other councils the courage to make the right decision and it also makes a lot of them realise this is a serious mainstream issue," Ms Byrne said.

The decision was the biggest anti-fluoride victory so far, made more significant because councillors held a two-day tribunal to hear both sides of the argument before reaching their conclusion.

"I think what will happen is I think this New Plymouth decision will shake up the remaining councils.

"Because we now have 25 councils out of 69 that have fluoridation and they will start wondering if they are doing the right thing ... I definitely think this is the beginning of the end."

More than half of New Zealand's population supplied with fluoridated water – Christchurch is the only main centre with non-fluoridated water.

In rejecting fluoride, New Plymouth will join Tauranga, Whanganui, Rotorua, Whangarei, Timaru, Nelson, Napier and Greymouth as cities with non-fluoridated water.

Membership in that group looked far from certain at the council meeting yesterday morning.

Councillor Lynn Bublitz initially found support for his motion to maintain the status quo, which would have meant New Plymouth, Waitara, Urenui and Lepperton being supplied with fluoridated water and Inglewood, Oakura and Okato remaining fluoride-free.

However, despite help from Mayor Harry Duynhoven, Deputy Mayor Alex Matheson, and Councillors Maurice Betts and Howie Tamati, there were not enough votes to carry the day.

Instead it was Councillor Shaun Biesiek's motion to cease fluoridation altogether that gathered momentum throughout the 90-minute meeting.

Those final few arguing against the proposal could do little as the numbers stacked against them but found comfort in an amendment to spend the $18,000 fluoride budget on an education campaign on dental hygiene.

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After 90 minutes the decision was passed by voice vote with no voice against, which surprised almost everyone, including Mr Biesiek.

Like other councillors, he felt he could not support the continued fluoridation of water as he had doubts that the benefits to teeth outweighed potential health risks.

Mr Duynhoven, who admitted to a mouth full of amalgam fillings, had no doubt at all and said his councillors had got it wrong.

"In my view the right decision wasn't made.

"I believe that the overwhelming good was in the fluoride case and I believe the dentists were in the best position to actually see that," he said.

Water fluoridation will cease when the current supply of fluoride runs out in the next six weeks or so.

Council spokesman Brent Manning said the fluoride could not be returned to the supplier and letting it run out was the cheapest way of disposing of the chemical.

More than 400 submissions were made on the issue and 45 people spoke at last month's tribunal.

An overwhelming majority were against the continuation of the practice, though a Taranaki District Health Board submission called for fluoridation to remain and be started in all towns with 1000 people or more.

In June, the Ruapehu-Taumarunui District Council stopped fluoridation after 30 years and next month the Hutt City Council is understood to be considering the future of the practice in their Lower Hutt patch.

Water is fluoridated in both Stratford and Hawera.

Dentist rues council vote

Democracy's stupidity has been exposed by the New Plymouth District Council's decision to stop fluoridating its water, one of the city's most respected dentists says.

Taranaki DHB dental clinical leader David Antunovic said the decision to stop fluoridating went against the Australasian trend to treat water supplies and would result in high levels of tooth decay within two to three years.

"Sometimes democracy doesn't deliver what is expected and I think that sometimes democracy is acknowledged stupidity.

"That is part of the democratic process but it's failed and it's failed the people of Taranaki," Dr Antunovic said.

The cessation of water fluoridation would not impact upon the New Plymouth population evenly, with the young, poor and Maori most severely affected, he said.

"This decision means that we will soon be in a very difficult position of trying to cope with an increase in dental health needs.

"This can be only be addressed by reprioritising resources into the dental service from other health services or by simply accepting an increase in unmet oral health needs.

" Neither option is palatable for our patients," Dr Antunovic said.

Ministry of Health chief dental officer Dr Robyn Haisman-Welsh said council plans to replace its fluoridation programme with a education programme on dental hygiene would cost much more than the $18,000 they currently spent on fluoridating their water. "Conservative estimates are that it costs $4.20 to prevent each case of tooth decay through water fluoridation but it costs $117 to treat each case of decay."

"The cost to the District Health Board and individuals will far exceed $18,000 and DHBs are already investing significantly in improving child oral health, including oral health education," she said.

But their arguments have been heard before by Danielle Diamond, of Fluoride Free Taranaki.

Ms Diamond was one of the key leaders in the movement against fluoride in New Plymouth.

"I would like to ask what evidence their fears are based on, because it seems no one in this country has done a proper study to determine the true effectiveness of fluoridation.

"There are so many variables to consider," Ms Diamond said.

In contrast to Mr Antunovic she believed an education programme on dental hygiene could be effective in preventing tooth decay.

"I think if people are informed they can have an impact and it's a better way to spend out time and money," she said.

"It's going to the source of the issue and building better community rather than putting another chemical into our lives."

An overwhelming majority of the more than 400 submissions received by council on the fluoridation issue were against the practice.

WHAT IT MEANS

All fluoridation will cease in the New Plymouth district within approximately six weeks. Fluoride has no taste or smell.

Removing it will not change the taste of drinking water. The New Plymouth water supply has been fluoridated since 1969, Waitara and Lepperton since 1990, and Urenui since 1999.

The Inglewood, Oakura, and Okato water supplies are not fluoridated.

111 litres of fluoride is added to the New Plymouth district water supply every day. Water is fluoridated with hydro-fluorosilicic acid (HFA). The New Plymouth District Council spends $18,000 each year to fluoridate water.

The Ministry of Health recommends fluoridating water supplies to reduce dental decay. The level of fluoride naturally occurring in New Plymouth water is: 0.05g/m3. After treatment: 0.7g/m3. About 2.3 million people are supplied with fluoridated water in New Zealand.

- Taranaki Daily News

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