Hamilton’s less well-off families will be hit in the teeth – and their wallets – if fluoride is eliminated from the city’s water supply, say some Waikato health professionals.
A heavyweight team of health professionals did their best to persuade Hamilton city councillors that the ongoing addition of fluoride to the supply was the best way of keeping citizens’ mouths as healthy as possible, short of mandatory and enforced teeth brushing.
But they were up against three other health experts staunchly advocating fluoridation was unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
The two sides each made their pitch yesterday at the first of four days of public hearings that may put the issue to bed in Hamilton once and for all.
Led by Waikato District Health Board chief executive Craig Climo, and medical officer of health Felicity Dumble, the pro-fluoride group told councillors that removing fluoride from the supply would eventually lead to increased dental bills for the demographic that statistically took less care of their teeth – lower socio-economic families, including Maori and Pacific Islanders.
The group’s presenters included Rudi Johnston, representing the New Zealand Maori Dental Association, and Albert Kawene from Ruakura Hauora O Tainui, who said that because many poorer Maori families did not place great emphasis on keeping children’s teeth clean, they needed fluoridated water as an additional measure.
“There is one thing we can control and that is to have fluoride in the water,” Dr Kawene said. “Our children need fluoride more than they need dentists.”
Hamilton dentist Rob Aitken said sugar, not fluoride was the real enemy of the people of New Zealand, who consumed more sugar per capita than Australia, the United States and Britain.
“Tooth decay is a disease that affects mainly poorer communities. Sugar is the main driver.”
The Fluoride Action Network and Fluoride Free Hamilton were represented by Whangarei dentist Lawrie Brett, Hamilton doctor Peter Scanlon and Adelaide dentist Andrew Harms.
Dr Harms also took aim at the sugary foods industry, but on the basis that many people ate sugar-filled food in the belief that, because they also drank fluoridated water, their teeth would be better protected.
Dr Brett said the quality of research on fluoride was generally poor and subject to much misinformation.
“The fluoride that builds up on your teeth [by drinking fluoridated water] is like one atom thick. It does no benefit at all,” he said.
Some countries including Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Cuba had banned fluoride outright with no corresponding increase in tooth decay, he said.
Academic studies, including one by Harvard University, had found fluoride also had a potentially harmful effect on the development of children’s intelligence.
The hearings will continue in the Bill Gallagher Centre in Wintec’s central city campus until Friday. The council will deliberate and decide on the future of fluoridation on June 5.