OPINION: Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor has made the right call to seek expert advice on water fluoridation after the city council was awash with submissions for the practice to be stopped.
As the Standard reported on Friday, the Ministry of Health has been asked to review its long-entrenched stance on fluoridation in the face of arguments that new science has shown swallowing fluoride is of no value to people’s teeth and causes more health problems than it allegedly fixes.
It would have been easy and perhaps tempting for Mr Naylor and his council to dismiss the claims of the Fluoride Action Network and other submitters, and put their faith in a practice backed by the World Health Organisation and the New Zealand Dental Association.
But there has been a swing against water fluoridation in New Zealand in recent years and an emphatic stance from the ministry, based on recent research, would likely influence more than just Palmerston North’s council.
A mayor’s casting vote was needed in Thames this month to continue water fluoridation. The issue is also hot in Southland and Waikato, where 1500 submissions have been received on it. Dunedin has already decided to reduce levels, while Central Hawke’s Bay, New Plymouth and Kaitaia are among centres to stop the practice in recent years.
On the flipside, water fluoridation was introduced in Stratford, Patea and Waverley last year, earning congratulatory press statements from the Ministry of Health.
For the Stratford decision, the ministry quoted a 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey that found people who lived in fluoridated areas had an average of 2.5 fewer decayed, missing or filled teeth than those in non-fluoridated areas.
But at what cost? Fluoride Action Network New Zealand, which boasts one dentist and one doctor on its committee, has been very active in lobbying councils, claiming a host of adverse health effects, including heart disease and thyroid damage.
Scary or scaremongering?
It’s a tall order to expect local authorities to assess the science, and actually quite remarkable that such public health matters are left in their hands.