Dental and medical associations say they are concerned that the Queensland city of Bundaberg has refused to take part in voluntary water fluoridation being rolled out across the state.
Bundaberg’s councillor in charge of water says rolling out water fluoridation will be too costly for the community and there are serious health concerns, a claim dentists say is not supported by evidence.
Former premier Anna Bligh flagged mandatory fluoridation across the state in 2008, saying Queensland children had the “worst teeth in the country”.
The rollout was to be completed by the end of December, but the Bundaberg Regional Council successfully lobbied the LNP State Government to make the program voluntary.
Councillor Alan Bush says the annual running costs for the city’s 10 water treatment plants would add around $50 to rates bills per year.
“That cost was too high for a town of our status,” he said.
“We’ve got an environment where people on low incomes tend to come to live [here] and it would be a burden on those ratepayers.”
The Australian Medical Association, the Australian Dental Association, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the World Health Organisation say fluoride is safe, but Mr Bush is not convinced.
“There was a lot of people, anti-fluoride people, that sent me emails and talked to me about the health issues,” he said.
“In China … they don’t put it in their water and they export it to us to put it in our water. There is something wrong there.
“We shouldn’t have to force people to drink water with fluoride in it.”
Bundaberg dentist Dr Hanno Venter says the evidence says otherwise.
“I fall back on evidence-based answers. That’s as far I can go with my recommendations and opinions,” he said.
“[Many] studies [have been] done on the benefits and possible disadvantages of fluoride.
“When we went to dental school that’s what we learnt and what we studied, so it’s been on the block for quite a while.”
Queensland has been a latecomer to water fluoridation – the only exception being the city of Townsville, which signed up during the push for fluoride in the 1960s and 1970s.
In Bundaberg, a local newspaper poll found 87 per cent of respondents were against water fluoridation.
Real estate agent Grant Davies, a leading anti-fluoridation lobbyist, says he does not think it is a cost-effective way to deal with Queensland’s dental crisis.
“Less than 1 per cent [of the fluoride] is drunk by people,” he said.
“It works topically, not systematically. The rest goes on our lawns and sporting fields.”
Bundaberg Health Promotions chairman Dr Martin Strahan says $50 per ratepayer per year is a small price to pay for the benefits of fluoride.
“We chlorinate the water supply to make it fit for drinking and nobody would say the cost of chlorination is excessive,” he said.
“That argument wouldn’t be considered and I think fluoridating the water supply is an equally important thing to do.”
Dr Strahan says Bundaberg will become the largest city in the country not using fluoridised water.
“My concern is [that Bundaberg] will become the dental decay capital of Australia,” he said.
“You worry that it might start a domino effect and flow onto other areas and that would be a great shame.”
Tablelands Council has decided to follow Bundaberg’s lead, and several other councils, including the major centres of Mt Isa, Logan City and Mackay, are reconsidering their position.
Premier Campbell Newman is even facing dissent on the issue from his own MPs.
LNP backbencher Jason Woodforth says he uses a reverse osmosis device to strip fluoride from Brisbane’s town water to drink.
“It’s been linked to so many studies for ill health,” he said.
“Those studies are out there and have been done and we seem to be brushing them all under the carpet – we’re saying they’re not legitimate and we’re discrediting them.
“Just the other day we’ve been shown to be ranked, what, 25th in the world in maths and English.
“There’s now 36 studies, many out of China, in regards to IQ lowering from fluoridation but everybody keeps discrediting them.”
Mr Woodforth says there are about 30 of his fellow MPs who are also against fluoridation.
“[We’re trying to] get through Christmas and bring this back up in the party room in February and see what we can do at a state level,” he said.
“In the meantime, the great thing is all these councils have got the power in their hands at a local level.”