Water fluoridation could save Nelson Marlborough District Health Board $1 million a year, a dentist says, as debate on the political hot potato is to be devolved to central government.
At the annual Local Government NZ conference in Nelson, delegates from councils around New Zealand voted in favour of putting the decision-making power for water fluoridation in the hands of the director of general health.
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman and the New Zealand Dental Association supported the move saying the cost of defending decisions at local government level would be costly and open to inconsistency.
Sowman, who voted in favour of the move, said the controversial issue divided opinion in Marlborough and the Government should take the lead instead of pushing decisions on to councils.
“We are not trying to stop local communities from making decisions.
“This was an example of the expensive cost to the local council to defend decisions.
“Some may say we are passing the buck but councillors aren’t scientists.
“The meat in the sandwich is we don’t have enough information and we’re at the mercy of lobby groups. Often the loudest voice gets heard but is not necessarily the right one.”
Sowman said in Marlborough there was a “vigorous” anti-fluoridation lobby movement and health professionals in support of fluoridation.
New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Dr Rob Beaglehole said water fluoridation would reduce tooth decay by 40 per cent, especially in children and those who did not brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
Water fluoridation cross-cut populations and was of benefit to children, the elderly and lower socio-economic groups.
Tooth decay is the leading cause of admission to New Zealand hospitals for children, he said. Last year 5056 children underwent a general anaesthetic to have a tooth removed as a result of infection or abscess.
“Nelson Marlborough doesn’t compare that well with other fluoridated towns and cities around the country,” Beaglehole said.
Last year in the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board 242 children under 7 went under general anaesthetic to have a tooth or teeth removed. The average age of patients was 5, costing the board $1m.
Water is not fluoridated in Marlborough, except at the Woodbourne air force base. All Defence Force bases have fluoridated water.
Meanwhile, Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese confirmed sugar-sweetened drinks would no longer be served or sold at Nelson City Council buildings and events.