GORE could be the location for a pilot programme aimed at improving the appalling oral health of its children without adding fluoride to water, a meeting was told yesterday.

Southland District Health Board planning and funding general manager Graeme Savage said it had been decided to take a different approach with the Gore District Council, which has rejected a call to fluoridate its water supplies.

The council would be invited to support the pilot programme, which would take a holistic approach to oral health.

Children with poor oral health often had other serious health problems as well, Mr Savage told the board’s community and public health advisory committee.

The pilot would attempt to bring together all the agencies working with Gore children and tackle the root causes of rotting teeth.

Measures might include banning fizzy drinks from schools, encouraging tooth-protecting eating habits and holding education sessions for parents and caregivers.

The key was to get the numerous agencies working together on the pilot.

It was hoped the council would be an active participant.

“We believe the council has a role to play, parents have a role and so does the community,” he said.

Mr Savage said after the meeting the board was not giving up promoting water fluoridation as a safe and effective way to improve oral health.

Because children with tooth decay often had other health problems, a multi-agency approach looking at general nutrition and exercise might also improve decay rates.

Tooth decay among Gore and Mataura children were among the worst in Southland.

They were at least 30 percent higher than in Invercargill, where the water is fluoridated.

Talks about running the pilot were in their infancy, he said.