Twice the number of Hawke’s Bay children living in areas with non-fluoridated water needed general anaesthetic dental treatment compared to those in fluoridated areas, an audit has found.

The results of a five-year audit showed 363 children living in fluoridated areas required general anaesthetic dental treatment, compared to 690 children in non-fluoridated areas.

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board principal dental officer David Marshall said the results were “predictable but depressing” and “clearly showed” a greater demand on hospital dental services from those living in non-fluoridated areas.

He said overall the rate of caries was slowly declining in the Bay, but there was a persistent group of children for whom caries had become “almost a way of life”.

Bay children who needed teeth extractions over the last five years, had three on average, and the greatest number for a single child was 17.

Twenty children who had dental surgery were under 2 years old.

Results also showed socio-economic status was a factor as children who needed dental surgery most often came from low-income areas.

Dr Marshall said fluoridated toothpaste and toothbrushes were luxuries in those houses and came second to putting food on the table.

Results from the audit suggested fluoridated water was a significant factor in protecting teeth.

Children from Wairoa, where water was not fluoridated, had a disproportionate number of dental surgeries, while the similarly low-income community in Flaxmere did not.

Dr Marshall said the effects of the dental surgery in children were “profound”. “These children often go on to develop other social issues because of poor oral health – their overall health is affected, they use a disproportionate amount of hospital services and often struggle with social skills,” he said.

Anti-fluoride advocates refuted the health benefits of fluoridated water, claiming fluoride was a toxin that had adverse health consequences.

One detractor Angela Hair said the study did not take into consideration the wider health effects.

“There’s many many studies around the world that show that [fluoride] accumulates in the body and had long term effects on the digestive system, the thyroid system and further into joints on the bones,” she said.

Dr Marshall said Hastings’ water supply had been fluoridated for 60 years and produced no evidence of ill health resulting from fluoride.

The audit included children in Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay and Hastings districts, Napier city and Chatham Islands county.