Local health officials are putting their support behind fluoridating city water supplies.
The contentious issue is to be discussed yet again at a special Rotorua District Council meeting next month.
Local health organisations have renewed their support for fluoridation – claiming it would help improve the dental health of the city’s children, which is significantly worse than the national average. They also believe it would help reduce inequalities in oral health, benefiting low-income, Maori and Pasific Islands children.
It’s an issue that has been regularly and fiercely debated since 2002 when the hospital board, now known as the Lakes District Health Board, first urged the council to make the move in response to the region’s rotting teeth epidemic. Opponents claim there are no real dental health benefits, but that there are a number of adverse health effects from swallowing the chemical.
Rotorua district Council utilities operations manager, Eric Cawte, said previous consultations had shown insufficient community support for fluoridating the city water supply.
“The question of fluoridation is, however, the subject of two recent submissions to the council’s draft Long-Term Plan and will therefore be addressed again when the council considers all submissions, at a special meeting scheduled to be held over three days next month, from 5 to 7 June,” Mr Cawte said.
Primary health organisation Health Rotorua’s Water Fluoridation Position Statement 2011-2014 formed part of a wider Maori Health Plan that aims to close the health gap between Maori and non-Maori.
The statement, supported by the board, Tipu Ora, Toi Te Ora Public Health Service and the Waikato Bay of Plenty branch of the New Zealand Dental Association, recommends that water be fluoridated and that primary health providers in the community actively promote fluoridation.
Toi Te Ora medical officer of health Dr Phil Shoemack said all public water should be fluoridated as it had been conclusively shown to be safe and effective in improving dental health.
“Because water is consumed by everybody the biggest advantage is felt by those that most need it. That tends to reduce inequalities.”
Lakes board chief executive Cathy Cooney said fluoridation in Rotorua remained a realistic goal, despite 10 years of unsuccessful lobbying for it.
“There is compelling evidence that fluoridation makes a positive impact on the oral health of the population and it is particularly important for children’s oral health,” she said.
Fluoride Action Network national co-ordinator Mary Byrne said studies showed fluoridation didn’t reduce dental decay and had serious side effects.
There was also the question of an individual’s right to choose, she said.
“It’s ludicrous to expect the whole population to swallow this chemical. They are wanting to medicate the whole of Rotorua without informed consent.”
Ms Byrne said 52 per cent of New Zealand’s population had fluoridated water including Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin, 24 out of 69 councils.
Taupo District Council adds fluoride to its town and Turangi supplies while Whakatane District Council fluoridates Whakatane and Ohope urban supplies. A non-binding referendum on the issue is planned in Whakatane.