Most of the wider Manawatu region could have fluoride added to its water within the next two years – a controversial move not supported by everyone.
Palmerston North has fluoride in its water, but Horowhenua, Tararua and the Manawatu District Council region, excluding Feilding, do not.
However, new legislation could see that change.
The Ministry of Health wants district health boards to make decisions about adding fluoride to water. Presently, district councils make the call.
MidCentral DHB’s stance is that it “strongly supports water fluoridation as a safe, effective and affordable way to prevent and reduce tooth decay across the whole population”.
If the law change goes ahead, MidCentral will take over in 2018.
The proposal has been met with mixed reaction.
NZ Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole said DHBs were “in the best position to make this important public health decision”.
“From our perspective, we back MidCentral DHB’s commitment to this.
“DHBs have all the necessary medical expertise to make decisions about whether to fluoridate or not. DHBs can take into account local health priorities and local oral health-related statistics,” Beaglehole said.
“Local and global evidence demonstrates that community water fluoridation is both an effective and safe way to reduce tooth decay, particularly among children and vulnerable members of society.”
However, Fluoride Free NZ national co-ordinator Mary Byrne was skeptical about the move.
She said the Government had made the change because Fluoride Free NZ was close to convincing councils in Wellington and Auckland against fluoride.
“The reason the Ministry of Health is pushing for this is we were winning the argument against fluoride.
“They are too scared to leave it in the hands of councils.”
Byrne said the group was making inroads through lobbying councils.
Fluoride was a toxin and to dismiss that point of view was “reckless”, she said.
People were already exposed to fluoride, mostly through toothpaste, and it was a crude form of medication to add it to water, she said.
“What other medication do you get via your water supply?”
Fluoride was linked to higher rates of dental fluorosis – white spots on teeth – and caused damage to the brain in high doses, she claimed.
A Horowhenua District Council spokesman said it had never formally considered fluoridating its water supplies.
“Essentially, it’s never been considered because there has not been a council desire to do so, or a general public request for it.”
The council owned and operated five water supplies throughout the district, none of which had fluoride.
In Tararua, the last suggestion of adding fluoride was in 2000, following a letter encouraging councils to consider the option from then Minister of Health Annette King.
The debate had been “inconclusive”, Tararua District Council governance manager Richard Taylor said.
“Views were divided on the necessity of fluoridating the water. Additionally, there was no directive from the community to consider that option. Therefore, the council did not pursue the matter any further and this status has remained.”
In the Manawatu District, only the Feilding supply was fluoridated.
The district council says it has no intention to change that.
“There are no plans to include it in the smaller schemes and there have been no requests to include it,” a council spokesman said.
“We are maintaining the status quo until we get a significant direction and funding from the Ministry of Health about further fluoridation of our community water schemes.”
The council considered fluoridation at each Annual Plan, in line with the public submissions.