Doctors say Queensland government must fund fluoride for the entire state
Dentists and doctors in Queensland are reporting “extensive tooth decay” in parts of the state that refuse to add fluoride to the water supply, especially among children and the elderly.
One in four Queensland children admitted to hospital requires treatment for a dental condition, according to the most recent report by the state’s chief medical officer.
Indigenous children, many of whom live in communities without fluoride, have a staggering 70% rate of tooth decay. The rate is 55% among all Queensland children aged between five and 15.
The Australian Medical Association says its top priority in Queensland is for the state government to fund the cost of fluoridation, and to mandate its use across the state.
In 2007 the then premier Anna Bligh introduced statewide fluoridation for town water supplies. But in 2012 Campbell Newman’s government, under pressure from a fringe of ultra-conservative MPs, legislated to give council areas the option.
Subsequently 19 local government areas removed fluoride from their water supply. Some areas have cited cost as a barrier; others were the targets of campaigns by anti-fluoride campaigners.
The president of the AMA in Queensland, Dilip Dhupelia, said dental outcomes in those areas were noticeably worse than places that continued to add fluoride to their water supply.
In Bundaberg, which does not have fluoride, the rate of tooth decay is about 2.5 times higher than the rest of the state. There were 244 admissions to hospital for dental conditions in the town last year. Across the state, the number is in excess of 4,000.
“These councils are seemingly unwilling to accept the extensive body of evidence proving the health benefits and safety of fluoride and so we are calling on the state government to rectify the problem urgently by mandating fluoride in all drinking water supplies,” Dhupelia said.
“The cost of services, the cost-benefit analysis of adding fluoride in the water, significantly outweighs the cost of dental services.”
The Palaszczuk government has been tentative about reversing the Newman-era decree and taking decision-making power away from local government.
In this term of government abortion has been decriminalised, and debate has begun about voluntary assisted dying. Ministers have been reluctant to further accelerate the pace of social change in a once deeply conservative state; especially in regional areas with many socially conservative voters.
Neil Johnson, the foundation dean of the Griffith University dental school and an emeritus professor, has been involved in a long-running study of dental heath in a Cape York Indigenous community.
Fluoride was added to the water supply in 2006. About six years later, there had been “a considerable improvement” in the health of the community, and about a 40% reduction in tooth decay.
“The anti-fluoride movement, like the flat earth movement, is active all over the world,” Johnson said. “Queensland is dragging the chain significantly.
“From remote communities, the most common cause of medevac to a city or town for a general anaesthetic is to extract teeth. The community impact is considerable, and the financial impact is considerable.
“If we get the state government to say, we’ll fund it for you … that’s in everybody’s interest.”
Michael Foley, a senior lecturer in public health dentistry at the University of Queensland, said fluoride was among the most cost-effective public health interventions. He said other interventions – such as seatbelts in cars, or breast screening – were the right thing to do, but came at a net financial cost.
“Water fluoridation stands alone … it actually brings back in money. It brings back, in savings to the public health system, many times what it costs to implement.”