Dunedin City Council staff have suggested issuing a public advisory warning mothers about the risks of mixing baby formula with fluoridated water – a matter dismissed by the Ministry of Health nearly two years ago.
The idea was raised in a report to councillors at Monday’s meeting of the infrastructure services committee, which prompted a heated debate on the merits of fluoridated reticulated water supplies in the city.
In his report, council water production manager Gerard McCombie said the risks of mixing formula and fluoride “need to be addressed” following concerns raised by the US-based American Dental Association (ADA).
It would be “prudent” to raise the issue with Public Health South officials in Dunedin to see if a national advisory was required, he said.
The ADA “interim guidance” published in November 2006 warned some infants could be receiving a greater than optimal amount of fluoride through baby formula containing the chemical, when mixed with fluoridated water.
Fluoride intake “above recommended levels” created a risk of enamel fluorosis in infants, causing aesthetic blemishes on developing teeth.
However, Ministry of Health officials were quick to point out – in December the same year – fluoride was not permitted in baby formula manufactured in New Zealand, while overseas brands containing fluoride were labelled.
“We will continue to monitor dietary fluoride intake and review the statements made in America, but at the moment we believe we have things right,” Ministry chief adviser oral health Dr Robin Whyman said at the time.
When contacted yesterday, a ministry spokeswoman confirmed that that position remained unchanged, and that there were no plans to issue a new public advisory on the risks associated with fluoride and infant formula.
“The Ministry of Health will not be issuing an advisory as nothing has changed since that advice was given in 2006,” spokeswoman Karalyn van Deursen said.
Mr McCombie conceded when contacted he was unaware the ADA’s guidelines had been rebutted by the ministry in 2006, and said the matter would be raised at an upcoming meeting between council staff and PHS officials.
His report was a summary of issues raised at a briefing given to councillors by Public Health South officials and Fluoride Action Network representatives, and the comments aimed to reflect concerns raised, he said.
“It was really a comment, an observation, that there seems to be an issue there that needs clarification,” he said.
Public Health South medical officer of health Dr John Holmes yesterday agreed the information contained in the council report appeared to be out of date, and PHS senior public health dentist Dorothy Boyd said she did not expect a new advisory would be pursued.
Mr McCombie’s report also conceded council staff were not qualified to assess the science behind arguments surrounding fluoridation.
During Monday’s meeting, Cr Fliss Butcher evoked memories of thalidomide while arguing against fluoridation and “mass medication” by “men in white coats”, while Cr Michael Guest said opponents were “akin to quacks and snake oil merchants”.