Amid calls for Palmerston North to dump fluoridation of the city’s water, Mayor Jono Naylor wants the Ministry of Health to review its stance on the matter.
Anti-fluoride campaigners have made the issue the major theme of submissions on the city council’s draft Annual Plan, which will be debated on Wednesday.
About one-third of the 100-plus submissions sought a review of fluoridation. Mr Naylor said the arguments put forward by the Fluoride Action Network and supporters had enough credibility to warrant closer examination.
But he did not think elected councillors had the expertise to evaluate the evidence themselves.
He believed the ministry’s entrenched pro-fluoride stance should be reviewed.
“I don’t think that the council should ignore ministry advice lightly, but neither do I think we should ignore the very good arguments that have been put forward.”
Network spokeswoman Mary Byrne’s submission to the council on fluoride was that it did not work, was dangerous, was disrespectful, and that it was time for a review.
She said the latest evidence was that fluoride worked to reduce tooth decay when it was applied directly to the teeth, not through swallowing it.
The network said ministry research that claimed fluoridation reduced cavities by 30 to 40 per cent made a difference of less than one filling for the average child.
It also disputed ministry claims that fluoridation was safe, when it clearly increased rates of fluorosis, a mottling of the teeth, which the network said was the first sign of overdose.
Other councils throughout New Zealand are also grappling with the fluoridation issue.
Hamilton City Council will next week be hearing some of the 1500 submissions it has received on the topic.
Hastings and Whakatane will be holding referendums. Last year the Central Hawke’s Bay District stopped fluoridation. Dunedin has just opted to reduce the levels.
Mr Naylor had hoped Local Government New Zealand might take up his call for the ministry to update its research and advice.
However, the organisation’s stance was that communities should make their own decisions, encouraging the use of referendums, rather than taking a national view.
Mr Naylor said that support for local democracy was appropriate.
“But I still think I would like to see some objective view of both sides of the argument, if that’s possible.”
The ministry supports the National Fluoride Information Service to review the latest international scientific papers on fluoridation.
Its 2011 advice is there is no support for a change to the ministry’s pro-fluoride advice.
Some of its key findings were that developmental defects in tooth enamel were more common in low-fluoride communities, that fluoridation was cost-effective for reducing tooth decay in poorer families, and that risks of increased fluorosis were minor given the substantial benefits of fluoridation.