Concerns about water fluoridation in Nelson were raised at a health board meeting following
the Government’s decision to hand over the responsibility to district health boards.
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board member Judy Crowe questioned how the dosage would be monitored to prevent people from ingesting toxic levels of fluoride if it was added to the water supply.
Earlier this month the NMDHB welcomed Government plans to transfer decision-making powers for fluoridating water supplies away from local authorities
“In 1954 when fluoride was first introduced in the water supply in the city of Hastings there was no legislation in the form of health and safety as we know it today, so my question is how would this DHB set fluoride guidelines,” Crowe asked the board.
Bottle-fed infants, children under 8 years-old, people with impaired kidney function and those who drink a lot of fluoridated water and others with high fluoride intake from other sources such as diet and toothpaste were mentioned as some of those who would be at risk.
Crowe’s questions arose from reading the international critique of the New Zealand Fluoridation Report of 2014 which raised concerns about the report being unjustifiably complacent about risks.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Baker said it was important that these concerns were addressed as they would also be raised by others in the community.
He said typically, people should get fluoride from no more than two sources.
If fluoride was added to the water supply, it would be suggested that children use a low-fluoride toothpaste. Currently the DHB recommends children use a high-fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay.
The Ministry of Health guidelines recommend the adjustment of fluoride to between 0.7 and 1.0 parts per million in drinking water as the most effective and efficient way of preventing dental caries.
“Every $1 we spend on fluoridate in drinking water we can save $88 on dental care which is a very good reason for our community to have fluoridated water,” Baker said.
Fluoride Free Nelson spokeswoman Sara Cooper said the group were pleased that a member of the board was asking important questions about fluoridation.
“It is such a relief to have someone questioning this that will be listened to as Fluoride Free Nelson have been shut out of any meaningful discussions with the DHB and all promises of public meetings and communication on joint health ventures appear to be fob offs.”
Despite promises of community engagement from the DHB in the last six months, Cooper said Fluoride Free Nelson and concerned members of the public had not been given an opportunity to do so.
It appeared that the board did not want community input that differed from their stance, she said.
Cooper said while the Nelson City Councillors were reachable by members of the public, health board members were not and she questioned how they could be responsible to the community when people couldn’t communicate with them.
Chief executive Chris Fleming said the board had adopted a position statement on fluoridation in August before the legislation was introduced to shift the responsibility onto district health boards.
The statement endorsed community water fluoridation as an important public health measure to maintain good oral health, the prevention of tooth decay and the reduction of health inequalities.
“We don’t monitor and report every article about everything we have a position statement on. I don’t think we should be singling out fluoride like we don’t single out new evidence on alcohol or smoking, apart from when we are asking the board to make a decision,” Fleming said.
Crowe said that the international critique of the New Zealand Fluoridation Report of 2014 was not new evidence and should have been included when the board formed their position statement.
“We had a very pro-response in what we were presented with information-wise and I don’t believe we have been given a fair hearing.”
She said board members should have a right to rethink their position and that counter-evidence for water fluoridation should have been presented to the board before making a position statement.