The January 27 Editorial claims that lobbying against fluoridation of water supplies is unscientific. This is not so.
Ministry of Health data from the Community Dental Clinics, covering more than 90% of five- and 12-year-olds, shows that their dental health, as measured by decayed, filled and missing teeth, is steadily improving. And it is the same in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas. Dental health in Maori children is not so good, but there is little difference between fluoridated and unfluoridated areas. So, our children’s teeth are getting an increasingly good start in life regardless of whether their water is fluoridated.
Data from the NZ Oral Health Survey 2009 suggests a steady deterioration of dental health in adulthood in large part because of the unaffordability of regular dental checks and (especially) treatment.
There is a general consensus that the action of fluoride is topical; that is, on the surface of the teeth where it interferes with the process in plaque that damages the enamel. Thus there is no benefit from ingesting fluoride. The advice in the clinics is brush with fluoridated toothpaste and spit, not swallow.
There are programmes in Europe that use topical or no fluoride with markedly good results.
The scientific conclusion from this data is that oral health, as with most other aspects of health, is most strongly affected by socio-economic status. The obvious course is to continue the childhood clinics and extend subsidised or free basic dental care to adults. Meanwhile, we should promote the benefits of topical fluoride through regular brushing with fluoridated toothpaste.
*The Listener was available online February 19, 2018 (with a publish date of February 24-March 2, 2018).