More pressure should be put on the Timaru District Council over fluoridating the district’s water supply, according to a local dentist.
Debate around the controversial issue of fluoridation was reignited last week after the South Canterbury District Health Board’s (SCDHB) community and public health committee voted to recommend a position statement supporting fluoridation to the full board.
While the decision to fluoridate water supplies currently lies with local councils, Timaru Mayor Damon Odey believed central government needed to “front up” and take responsibility for the issue.
The DHB’s move came under fire from a local anti-fluoride activist, who described fluoride as “a poison”.
That position has been criticised by Timaru dentist Mark Goodhew, who says fluoride is the most cost-effective way to improve the district’s poor oral health.
It would be “disappointing” if the SCDHB did not back the use of the fluoride, he said.
Goodhew is calling for the SCDHB and other organisations to put pressure on the council to reintroduce fluoride into the community water supply.
If approved, the statement would mean the SCDHB would work with other organisations to “actively promote” the fluoridation of community water supplies.
The issue had been a “no-go zone” with the council for many years, Goodhew said.
Odey said the council’s position was that it was a health issue, and should be dealt with by central government.
“We’re sick of them putting pressure on councils without the experience and understanding of the issue.”
Fluoridation had not been discussed or debated by the current council, he said.
Odey believed the issue was a complex one, and the district’s poor oral health was also partly down to the prevalence of sugary drinks.
“The reality is that the statistics with children brushing their teeth twice a day are quite horrific.
“They’re not drinking water. Do we need to start putting fluoride into cans of ‘V’ as well.”
With the DHB expected to back the use of fluoride in water supplies, Goodhew was hoping the issue would be back on the table.
He could understand why some people believed consuming fluoridated water should be a personal choice, but he did not support that position.
“There are people who dispute the evidence, but I think it’s pretty clear.
“They’re arguing that their right to drink water fluoridated at very low levels is more important than the right of our community to have better oral health.”
Timaru anti-fluoride activist Imelda Hitchcock led the charge to have it removed from the water supply in 1985, and she was critical of the committee’s proposal to support fluoridation.
“Why would you want to put a poison in your drinking water?” she said.
“It’s like swallowing sunscreen to prevent melanoma.”
The Ministry of Health recommended between 0.7 parts per million and 1.0 ppm of fluoride as a safe, effective, and efficient way of preventing dental caries in communities receiving a reticulated water supply.