TENS of thousands of children across Australia are suffering tooth decay, pain and the humiliation of bad teeth because the federal and state governments are failing to ensure water supplies are fluoridated.
Regional and rural councils are being allowed to decide whether or not to fluoridate water supplies, despite the vast weight of evidence showing fluoride prevents decay and universal agreement from scientific and medical experts that fluoride is safe.
Furious anti-fluoride lobbying from a well-organised and funded group of protesters is targeting mayors, councillors and politicians who try to stand up for fluoride, leading towns across NSW and the country to abandon or delay the introduction of fluoride, which was introduced to Sydney’s water supply in 1968 and has produced no recorded adverse health effects on any person.
Today The Sunday Telegraph launches a new campaign to change the law.
We are asking state and territory governments to change legislation that gives power to regional councils or local water authorities, and instead mandate the fluoridation of water in all towns above a population of 1000 people. And we want the federal government to lead the charge by brokering an agreement between all states and territories to agree to fluoridate their water supplies.
NSW Health estimates that for every $1 spent on fluoridation the state saves $18 on associated health costs from ongoing dental decay, which continues over a patient’s lifetime.
Taxpayers have spent a disgraceful $433 million since January 1, 2014, under the child dental benefits schedule, which covers dental problems for kids who qualify for Family Tax Benefit A.
As part of our campaign, we will bust the irresponsible myths promoted by anti-fluoride activists and celebrities — including Miranda Kerr’s mum Therese Kerr and Pete Evans — including that fluoride causes low intelligence, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, osteoporosis and cancer.
There is no evidence to back any of these claims and in November the National Health and Medical Research Council recommended fluoride for all water supplies, saying it was proven to prevent cavities while causing no other ill health effects.
A total of 19 councils in NSW are without fluoride, from the hippie fringe in Byron Bay to traditional rural heartland areas such as Gunnedah, both of which have populations over 30,000.
More than 17 towns and communities have pulled out in Queensland, and Victoria has 72 towns of significant population still unfluoridated.
The Australian Dental Association is strongly backing our campaign, with Dr Michael Foley of the ADA’s Oral Health Committee saying the federal government must take charge.
“It’s a flawed system and we would like to see a federal government overview, much like the action they have taken on vaccination,” Dr Foley said – a reference to The Sunday Telegraph’s successful No Jab, No Play, campaign which saw federal and state governments change laws to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.
While water fluoridation is strongly endorsed and recommended in the Federal National Oral Health Plan, to which all states and territories are signatories, Queensland and NSW leave the decision-making to local councils in rural and regional areas.
In major metropolitan centres serviced by one water supplier, like Sydney Water, all water is fluoridated. In other states and territories it is the decision of the health departments, but a lack of commitment has seen too many towns go without.
“It’s an abrogation of responsibility to delegate decision making on fluoridation to local councils; it’s a state government responsibility. The decision should be made at a level where there is the greatest expertise,” Dr Foley said.
In a statement to The Sunday Telegraph, NSW Health said: “The most appropriate approach is for water utilities to be responsible for water fluoridation. In regional NSW, those utilities are mostly local councils.”
But a simple change to the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957 could hand the Minister for Health the jurisdiction to direct water authorities to fluoridate the water.
Such an amendment, called the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Amendment Bill 2013, was proposed by Labor in 2013 but was knocked back by Mike Baird’s Coalition government.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley dodged the topic, saying although fluoridation was proven to be beneficial, “the state and territory governments are responsible for the fluoridation of their water supplies”.
The Public Health Association of Australia is also backing the campaign.
“It should be a state government decision, this is a broad public health policy and it’s appropriate for the state to make the decision because it’s the state that will pick up the bill when it leads to broader health issues, which we know poor oral health leads to,” PHAA chief executive Michael Moore said.
“There is a lack of public health training and an inability to understand scientific studies, and council decisions (like in Byron Bay, which voted against fluoridation in 2013) can be made without fully understanding the data and that leads to decisions that denies children good oral health,” Mr Moore said.
NSW opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said it was irresponsible for governments not to enforce fluoridation. “It is such an important health decision it should be the responsibility of the state or federal government,” Mr Secord said. “ I would support any move to take it out of local government hands.”
BITE BACK-WHAT WE WANT
* State Governments to seize power from councils over water fluoridation
* Federal Government to lead States agreement to fluoridate all water for towns over 1000 population
* Federal dental funding to States tied to water fluoridation
* NSW to amend Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957 to give power to Health Minister