The fluoride debate looks set to rage in Christchurch with the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) announcing it wants fluoride in the city’s water supply.
The CDHB is formulating a policy which will support fluoridation.
CDHB chief executive Jean O’Callaghan said Canterbury tooth decay rates were high compared to other parts of New Zealand and developed countries with fluoridated water.
“Both national and international evidence shows water fluoridation to be the most effective method of reducing tooth decay in communities,” she said.
Christchurch is the biggest metropolitan area in the country which is not fluoridated. Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin have fluoridated water.
A recent study of Wellington and Christchurch five-year-olds showed Christchurch children had 30 per cent more cavities than Wellington children.
School and Community Dental Service head Martin Lee said there was a misconception that fluoride only helped children’s teeth. “It helps anyone who has teeth,” he said. “That includes dear old granny as well. The reality is the cost of not providing fluoride falls on the DHB. But the cost of providing fluoride is really, really cheap.”
Christchurch City Council planning and projects manager, water and waste unit, Bruce Henderson, said the council had done cost estimates of putting fluoride in the water supply in 2000.
These showed it would cost $3 million to put it into the water supply, with a $250,000 annual operating cost.
“It is more expensive here because places like Wellington and Dunedin only have about four pumping sites,” he said. “We have 50.”
Mr Henderson said a public survey in October 2000 showed 60 per cent of Christchurch citizens did not support putting chemicals, including fluoride, in the water supply. Council officers had not made any recommendations on the issue.
“It is a debate for the health professionals,” he said.
Mr Lee estimated fluoride in the water supply would save $52 million in dental costs over 30 years.
CDHB board member Randall Allardyce told last week’s board meeting that the board needed the city council’s buy-in on its fluoride policy.
“They (council) are congratulating themselves about not polluting the water,” he said. “That is like congratulating yourself for not providing vaccinations. It is putting a curse on youngsters with tooth decay.”
Anti-fluoride campaigners claim the chemical causes cancer and weakens bones. Christchurch City councillor Ron Wright opposes fluoride in Christchurch’s water supply.
“I don’t think tooth decay is of such magnitude that we need fluoride in the water,” he said. “I don’t like fluoride and I don’t think it is necessary when you have the standard and quality of the water in this city.”