The Public Health Association (PHA) has welcomed the Government’s decision to empower district health boards (DHBs) with responsibility for decisions about community water fluoridation, but warns the battle for fluoridation is far from over.
“Local councils have been under considerable pressure from vocal minority groups opposed to fluoridation, and that pressure will now fall on DHBs,” says PHA Chief Executive Warren Lindberg.
“In light of the continued pressure it’s a better approach that agencies with health expertise make decisions about implementing fluoridation, rather than local authorities.
“The new process will provide the opportunity to increase the numbers of New Zealanders who have access to fluoridated water and its significant health benefits. This could mean fewer days lost at school or work and reduced pain and suffering.”
However, Mr Lindberg said the legislation the Government is drafting to make the change must be very clear about DHBs’ responsibility under the Health and Disability Services Act 2000 to improve, promote and protect health and address unequal health outcomes.
“There are very high rates of preventable tooth decay in many regions around New Zealand, particularly where there is no fluoridation. It has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and other international and national health and scientific experts as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay, and its increased use will reduce health inequalities.
“Who better then, than DHBs, to oversee its use here in New Zealand?”
Mr Lindberg also said it is imperative that communities receive good information about the health benefits of fluoridation to ensure both voters and DHB candidates in local elections were fully and properly informed.
“The PHA urges the Ministry of Health to support the change with information about community water fluoridation to ensure voters and candidates understand the reasons for the decision and the evidence for its health benefits, particularly to children.”
Mr Lindberg said the evidence for the benefits of community water fluoridation is overwhelming, despite misinformed claims to the contrary.
“Fluoridation is a valuable and proven preventative measure. It protects young people from the ravages of tooth decay which means happier, healthier lives and greatly reduced costs to the health system in terms of treatment later in life.”