In the three years since fluoride was removed from Ashburton’s water supply, the town’s oral health has been on a plummeting, downward spiral, says an Ashburton dental surgeon.
Dr Justin Wall said the increasing incidence of oral decay in the Ashburton District could be directly linked to the removal of fluoride on March 31, 2002.
In the face of increasing dental decay in Christchurch, a campaign is being mounted to reintroduce fluoride into Christchurch’s water supply and Dr Wall is keen to see that same campaign mounted here.
Greymouth District Council voted last month to refluoridate the Greymouth water supply and pro-fluoride lobbyists have lined Westport and Christchurch up as the next two targets on the refluoridation campaign.
Greymouth is the first town in New Zealand in at least 20 years to adopt fluoridation.
The increase in dental caries is affecting both young children and adults, Dr Wall said.
“The time from when a tooth is perfectly healthy until it is travelling home in your pocket is normally four years and we’re approaching four years now. For people who didn’t have sound teeth when fluoride was taken out, the deterioration has been accelerated,” he said.
Dental therapists who worked with young children were now becoming overloaded with work and that was spilling over onto his workload, Dr Wall said.
As a contractor to the Canterbury District Health Board who deals with advanced problems with children’s teeth, he said his waiting list was now running three or four weeks out.
“By the time they see us we are looking at abscessing and things like that in children from about the age of four. If we can’t treat them, they sit on waiting lists for six months in Christchurch Hospital for a general anaesthetic.”
Many parents were now giving their children fluoride tablets, and while this went some way towards addressing the problem it did not treat teeth in the topical fashion that fluoridated water in the mouth did, Dr Wall said.
“And in adults who are at risk with root surfaces exposed, we are seeing an increase in decay as this area was normally protected by fluoride in the water.”
Areas such as Greymouth had to be commended for being proactive in the face of an epidemic of tooth decay, Dr Wall said.
“They were in a lot of strife with decay and needed to do something at a local level to address it.”
What many people failed to recognise, Dr Wall said, was that there was a cumulative effect on the health system from the rapid increase in dental decay and the demand it placed on health services.
One person per day who was not treated would ultimately mean a person pushed further down the hospital waiting list when this person’s condition became acute.
“I am booked up for three to four weeks now and by the time some of the kids are seen they are at a point where teeth have to come out,” he said.
If Ashburton’s water was fluoridated again, there would still be a blip in the population with people who lived through a period when fluoridation was removed.
Individually, the removal of fluoride would prove to be an expensive mistake, Dr Wall said.
Christchurch is the only main centre not to have a fluoridated water supply. Currently in Canterbury, only Methven and Burnham Military Camp have treated water.
A meeting to discuss refluoridation of the city’s water supply was held in 2003 between the Canterbury District Health Board and Christchurch City Council. No timetable for its introduction has been set.
The board’s principal dental health officer, Dr Martin Lee, said the board intended to push the fluoridation issue along.
Mr Wall said he would be watching the progress of the Christchurch campaign and anticipated that campaign would spread to Mid and South Canterbury.