The district health board’s principal dental officer said he was disappointed the Marlborough District Council chose not to discuss putting fluoride into the region’s water supply earlier this week.
Dr Roby Beaglehole said the fluoride debate was a “personal issue” for some councillors and therefore the decision should be put into the hands of district health boards.
Putting fluoride in drinking water was a proven and effective measure of reducing tooth decay by up to 30 per cent, Dr Beaglehole said. “I’m disappointed the council did not discuss [fluoride] further but that’s what is happening all around the country. It’s a hot potato,” he said.
“Ideally, the decision would be better placed in the hands of the health board . . . it’s a health issue, not a council issue.”
Non-fluoridated Marlborough performed well in terms of childhood decay rates against fluoridated regions because it was relatively well-off, he said.
Ministry of Health statistics showed 67 per cent of five-year-olds in Marlborough and Nelson were cavity-free in 2011 compared to 60 per cent in the mainly-fluoridated Hutt Valley with a similar-sized population.
Statistics for 2012 were not yet collated, a ministry spokesman said yesterday.
Comparing regions was difficult because other factors impacted on tooth decay, including socio-economic levels, Dr Beaglehole said. But fluoride in drinking water helped reduce dental inequalities.
Statistics from the Blenheim community oral health clinic showed a third of Maori five-year-olds were cavity-free last year compared to two-thirds of non-Maori.
“In Nelson-Marlborough, poorer people’s stats might be getting worse but the average is getting better because people higher up the ladder might be improving at a faster rate.”
The Community Oral Health Clinic opened in Blenheim two years ago this month and was responsible for finding and treating more cavities, Dr Beaglehole said.
“Now that the clinic is up and running we have been seeing more children, taking more X-rays and finding more decay. Over the next year, that might skew the results, which will get worse before they get better.”
Dr Beaglehole treated two or three children every Friday with most needing an abscessed tooth removed, he said.
Marlborough district councillor Graeme Taylor was “smacked” by Mayor Alistair Sowman for saying the council would discuss water fluoridation on Tuesday.
Mr Taylor, chairman of the council’s assets and services committee which oversaw water supply infrastructure, had committed to raising the controversial issue after their committee meeting when asked by the Marlborough Express.
However, Mr Sowman had “pointed his finger at me for overstepping”, Mr Taylor told councillors when asking their opinion on fluoridation at the end of the meeting. Mr Taylor said yesterday he thought there should be a national strategy for fluoridation.
Mr Sowman said he shut down the fluoride debate because the council had a lot of work to get through before its term finished and he didn’t want councillors distracted. The fluoride debate was perhaps better suited for a new council, Mr Sowman said. He was neither for nor against putting fluoride in drinking water but thought it should be a central government issue.
The Express conducted an online poll this week about adding fluoride to water which saw 65 per cent against the move.