Fluoride is a risky topic to write an editorial about. No matter which way you fall on the issue, the opinion will spark vitriolic reader feedback. It will come mostly from the anti-fluoride brigade and will be full of questionable claims.
If you print too much of that feedback, it bores the majority of readers who care not a jot that most of them are being fed a chemical for the protection of their teeth.
But as another New Zealand community tears itself apart over the water fluoridation issue, it is time to ask if the model we are following is the correct one. And to question whether the country’s leaders are brave enough to do what they think is right.
The Far North District Council’s decision to end water fluoridation is the catalyst for this debate.
A three-year trial in Kaitaia and Kaikohe is being canned after a postal vote purportedly showed residents were against having fluoride added to the water.
Fewer than 700 of 5000 households replied to the survey and of those who did, about 490 were against it. Hardly a landslide.
However, it is a democracy and the local council decided to go with the majority. Fluoridation is to end.
This is a debate that goes on fairly regularly. Kapiti Coast District Council is considering the fluoridation issue this year, while Hamilton City Council spent tens of thousands on a referendum not so long ago that comprehensively backed continued fluoridation. However, some councillors there think they know better than their ratepayers and a couple have flagged it will come up for debate again in the next year.
Official reaction to the Far North’s decision was strong. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said it was “nothing short of disgraceful and a total failure of civic leadership”. He said children in the region had some of the worst oral health in the country and the council had failed in its duty to protect the most vulnerable members of the community.
“Coming off the back of a two-year-trial that had shown positive results, the decision is grossly irresponsible,” Dunne said.
Of course, Dunne is more informed than most. He is advised by the country’s health experts. The Ministry of Health is unequivocal in its support of fluoride.
On its website, it says: “Water fluoridation is a proven public health measure to reduce dental caries. The current level of fluoride found in the water supplies in New Zealand is not effective enough to be of benefit. Therefore increasing the fluoride found in the water supply to a safe level ensures oral health benefits.”