Waikato District Health Board might have to consider cutting health services to meet ballooning costs of dental treatment if fluoride is removed from Hamilton’s water supply, says chairman Michael Ludbrook.
But anti-fluoride campaigners question the credibility of the evidence Mr Ludbrook is basing his statements on, as the debate hots up ahead of Hamilton City Council next month deciding whether fluoride should continue to be added to the water supply.
Mr Lubrook said “numerous studies” had shown that when communities stopped fluoridation there was an increase in dental decay and a large increase in the number of people needing treatment in hospital under general anaesthetic.
“There will be real human costs in terms of unnecessary pain and suffering, but there will also be additional costs to the public health system which the health board is forced to consider,” he said.
He said fluoridation cost Hamilton approximately 20c a person annually, yet saved the city’s population millions of dollars in avoided dental treatment each year.
“Based on the latest statistics, if fluoride is removed, within five years the health board expects to have to pay more than $500,000 a year extra to treat the increase in tooth decay in children,” he said.
“It will cost an extra $100,000 a year just to drill and fill up to 1730 additional decayed teeth in Hamilton five-year-olds alone – add in the need for a new mobile unit at about $300,000, include running costs and additional staff, and the dollars just mount up.
“It’s projected that we will need to fund 296 additional extractions, some of which will have to be under general anaesthetic – and again, that’s just in our five-year-olds.
“We currently spend about $868,533 a year on dental care for 13 to 17-year-olds, which is estimated to increase to $1.27 million a year if fluoride is removed from the water supply.”
The increase in dental decay in children and young people would stretch the Waikato DHB’s ability to provide dental services.
Fluoridation Action Network spokeswoman Caren McConnell said those comments were “typical” in “citing an as-yet unpublished study and then making dire predictions from it”.
“There is little robust evidence connecting water fluoridation with dental decay rates at all.
“I would be surprised if this `study’ has assessed the rates of fluorosis, which is a known symptom of fluoride over-exposure, or that they would have calculated costs of dental repair for such a condition.
“Such treatment costs are now estimated to exceed the costs of treating decay in Canada.
“It is disappointing that the board isn’t making this much fuss over funding the school dental system properly, or about children’s diets and dental hygiene – the real causes of decay.”
In response, Mr Ludbrook said the Health Ministry examined the science of the matter, rather than the politics.
“I am absolutely confident clinical staff are not quoting anything not absolutely robust.”
The board voted last March to encourage the council to keep adding fluoride to the city water, which it has been doing since 1966.