If you live outside south-east Queensland, it’s likely you don’t have fluoride added to your drinking water.

As of today, even fewer towns will receive the tooth-strengthening chemical, with a central Queensland council announcing it will axe its fluoride program, citing cost and freedom of choice.

The Central Highlands Regional Council voted this week to stop adding fluoride to all five of its water treatment plants in Emerald, Blackwater, Sapphire and Tieri.

“It is reasonable to expect that our community members would want to have choice over what they consume,” the council said.

“The fluoridation of water is a matter of individual preference… local government does not bear the responsibility for healthcare.”

The Australian Dental Association has long been calling for the Queensland Government to mandate statewide access to fluoride, arguing it would reduce the cost of dental care for private patients, as well as for the public health system.

Queensland branch vice-president Kelly Hennessy said fluoride reduced dental decay in adults by up to 25 per cent and in children by about 44 per cent.

“Community water fluoridation is a simple, safe and effective way of reducing the decay and financial burden on people,” Dr Hennessy said.

“Historically in Queensland, we have rarely had fluoride in our water supplies and that shows in our kids teeth and in our adults teeth as well [with decay].”

She said about 90 per cent of Australians drink water with added fluoride, compared to 72 per cent of Queenslanders.

In the council’s meeting minutes, it said it cost about $180, 000 a year to add fluoride to water treatment plants.

General manager for infrastructure and utilities Jason Hoolihan said the money could be better spent on maintaining assets.

He said there were also issues involved with staff handling sodium fluoride powder.

“It is a safe chemical in water, but when dealing with it in its raw format, it is rather a toxic chemical that our staff has to deal with,” Mr Hoolihan said.

“So those health and safety considerations of our staff were taken into consideration.”

‘Local councils don’t pay for public health dentistry’

Dr Hennessy believes fluoride should be a state government responsibility.

“The problem is, of course, that we don’t have the health professionals on our councils to be making these decisions,” she said.

“Local councils don’t pay for public health dentistry.”

In a statement, Health Minister Shannon Fentiman said the Labor government supported fluoride for its significant dental health benefits.

She did not respond to questions raised about it being a state duty.

“Central Highlands Regional Council’s decision is disappointing,” Ms Fentiman said.

“I believe that supplying communities with fluoridated water is the responsible thing to do, and I would encourage every local government to do so.”

Townsville is the last major city outside of south-east Queensland to continue adding fluoride to its supplies, and Dr Hennessy said it consistently had lower rates of decay in children and adults.

The Central Highlands added fluoride to water supplies in 2011, when the state Labor government mandated access for towns over a certain population size.

But in 2012, the Queensland LNP Government amended legislation, giving councils the choice as to whether or not they added the chemical.

Many local governments removed fluoride amid misinformation campaigns and public pressure.

But Mr Hoolihan said the Central Highlands Council decided to stop adding it after finishing a new water security strategy, and looking at ways to make its water treatment process more sustainable.

“As times change and our communities get more responsive to what they are consuming… the decision was made to bring this to council for a decision,” he said.

Dr Hennessy said scientific evidence has consistently debunked myths that fluoride in water supplies caused harm.

*Original full-text article online at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-11/water-fluoride-calls-reinstate-central-highlands-stops-treatment/102965200