IF THE legacy of former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is his famous slogan, “the smart state”, that legacy of one of his successors could be far less salubrious.
Queensland: The toothless state could well one of former LNP leader Campbell Newman’s key achievements, after he, among a litany of controversial decisions in his three years at the state’s helm between 2012 and 2014, decided to dump mandated statewide water fluoridation.
Mr Newman announced the move in his first year as Queensland premier, placing the decision to fluoridate water in the hands of local governments.
In the ensuing four years, the state’s councils have abandoned the mineral additive en masse.
There’s never been a better time to be a Queensland dentist.
To be fair, the blame lays as much with current Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as it does with her old parliamentary sparring partner.
Despite attacking Mr Newman for the decision in 2012 and saying her government supports the practice, Ms Palaszczuk’s has declared there is no present intention of reversing the 2012 decision.
Thus, there seems no stopping the fluoride exodus.
“That legislation was an appalling piece of legislation,” Australian Dental Association spokesman Dr Michael Foley told AAP earlier this week, before further describing it as “lunacy” and urging Ms Palaszczuk’s government to reverse it.
Just one third of Queensland’s 77 councils fluoridate at least one of their water supplies and most of those are in the state’s southeast corner.
The vast majority of the vast state has unfluoridated water.
It includes some major regional centres, such as Cairns, Mount Isa, Bundaberg, Gladstone and now Mackay.
Many have opted out after addresses by anti-fluoride campaigners who peddle conspiracy theories about detrimental health impacts.
Cairns councillors, at the very least, swallowed the apparently unfounded theories, when, in voting to opt out in 2013, mayor Bob Manning described the practice as “mass medication”.
Mackay was the latest city to abandon the additive this week, after a vote by councillors in favour of abandoning fluoride got over the line 6-5.
It came after a ReachTel poll of city residents found 39 per cent supported fluoridated water, 46 per cent were opposed to it and 14 per cent were undecided.
Queensland came late to the mandatory water fluoridation party.
It wasn’t until 2007 that then-Labor Premier Anna Bligh announced the state would follow the lead of others in Australia with state-mandated fluoride.
Most other states have been adding it to their water supplies since the 1950s and 1960s.
The results came quickly.
A three-year study by University of Queensland researchers found rates of tooth decay in children aged five to nine in the Logan-Beaudesert dropped by 19 per cent following its introduction.
But still the conspiracy theories abound, the major ones being that fluoride is linked to higher rates of cancer, arthritis, allergies and bone fractures.
Countless health studies have been done in Australia since the introduction of fluoride to drinking water six decades ago.
According to Queensland Health, cancer rates in Queensland are no lower than in other Australian states, despite not having fluoridated water until 2008.
Arthritis Australia has endorsed water fluoridation, saying, “there is no reputable scientific evidence that water fluoridation causes or worsens symptoms of arthritis”.
Queensland Health said between the 1950s and 2008, there was no higher incidence of bone fractures in other Australian capital cities than there was in non-fluoridated Brisbane and the practice has been endorsed by Osteoporosis Australia.
More than 150 major health organisations, including the World Health Organisation, support water fluoridation.
Chief among the conspiracy theorists, however, is none other than the country’s most controversial purveyor of questionable health advice, celebrity chef Pete Evans.
The fluoride denier says he does not touch tap water and advises his legions of paleo diet devotees to follow suit.
“If you look at the number of countries who have reversed their fluoridation programs, it really raises alarm bells,” he said.
“Fluoride in the water hasn’t always been there and we’re no better off now than when it wasn’t.”
For the man with the beaming white smile, “better off” may be slightly objective.
You need to look no further than the dental health of the population of countries that don’t fluoridate, the Australian Medical Association’s President Dr Michael Gannon said.
“Great Britain is a perfect example of a country that could benefit greatly from fluoridation,” he said.
Dr Gannon said dental health in Britain has been compared to that of Ancient Rome.
Which, of course, The Simpsons nailed that time with this:
In comparison, those countries where, like Australia, more than half the population drink fluoridated water, include Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.
Dr Gannon said the research was irrefutable.
“Water fluoridation is something that has the full backing of the Australian Dental Association and the AMA, it’s cheap, it’s proven to be beneficial, and data repeatedly proves that it is effective in reducing cavities in children,” he said.
For Dr Foley, its imperative for the Queensland population’s dental health that the legislation introduced by Mr Newman — the former Brisbane Lord Mayor who campaigned on a platform of giving more decision-making power to local government — be reversed.
“Councils across Queensland, and mayors, have said repeatedly ‘why are we making this decision, we don’t have the expertise’,” he said.