The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) is calling on the federal government to take action to improve access to fluoridated drinking water in rural and remote areas.

The NRHA, which represents 37 member bodies, says fluoridation of drinking water is widely regarded as the most cost effective health promotion intervention available in a wealthy country such as Australia, because of its positive impact on dental health.

Yet millions of Australians – particularly residents in rural and remote areas – do not have ready access to fluoridated drinking water.

“This issue was raised at a recent meeting of all our members. It’s a concern that so many people don’t have the ability to establish good dental health from age zero,” said NRHA executive director, Gordon Gregory. “It’s an issue that needs to be talked about.”

According to the NRHA, more 700,000 Australian communities do not have access to fluoridated drinking water.

“Adding fluoride to reticulated water is an expensive matter for small local authorities, particularly in communities of less than 1000 people.”

Gregory says if fluoridation of drinking water proves prohibitively expensive in smaller areas, other methods of fluoridation – such as supplements, which have also been shown to reduce dental caries – should be explored.

“It’s a concern that so many people don’t have the ability to establish good dental health from age zero”
Gordon Gregory, NRHA executive director

“The NRHA believes the commonwealth government should encourage and assist local councils to do the right thing for the oral and dental health of people in smaller communities.

“Those people with most to gain are infants and children. With effective national leadership on fluoridation, the basis can be laid for the next generation of adults to have better dental health than their parents.”

In 2010-11 there were over 60,000 preventable hospitalisations related to dental conditions, with children between the ages of five and nine having the highest number of hospital stays for such conditions.

The Australian Dental Association supports fluoridation of drinking water even though it can be expensive to achieve.