Bega Valley Shire Council will take the first steps to fluoridate the water supply throughout the shire and expects to start “broad-based community consultations” in the coming months.

But the issue is likely to provoke strong reactions with local dentists disagreeing on the benefits of fluoridation.

Of the four supply systems that provide water services within the shire (Tantawangalo-Kiah, Bega-Tathra, Brogo-Bermagui and Bemboka), only the Bega-Tathra supply is presently fluoridated.

Bega Valley Shire Water and Sewerage Services Manager, Jim Collins said “Council has recently adopted its Long Term Financial Plan for Water and Sewerage which includes a number of water treatment facilities with proposed fluoridation plants.

He said the use of fluoride for treating water would be subject to the outcome of community consultation during which “the community will be provided with comprehensive information to aid the decision making process”.

Mr Collins said: “Broad-based community consultation … will take place this financial year. The program will be run by an independent consultant.”

The News Weekly sought the views of local dentists. Robert Gammal, from Beach Street Dental Centre, said it is a fallacy that fluoride prevents tooth decay, citing many studies which prove that fluoridation is harmful. He says countries such as Switzerland and Israel have banned its application as a “mass medication” in water supplies.

Merimbula Dental Practice’s Dr Belinda Cardwell favours fluoridation.

“The effectiveness and safety of water fluoridation as a public health measure has been rigorously researched for over 60 years. Support for community water fluoridation is based on the overwhelming weight of peer-reviewed, credible scientific evidence. Studies have consistently shown a significant reduction in decay in both children and adults and have failed to show any negative health effects” she told News Weekly, adding that many of her patients are “shocked to learn that Merimbula’s water isn’t fluoridated.”

Dr Cardwell also pointed to the National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004 – 2006 which showed the so-called “fluoride generation” had about half the level of dental decay as their parents.

The Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957 gives councils who are water supply authorities the power to fluoridate the water supply in their locality as regulated.

In 2006 the Shires Association of NSW (now known as Local Government Association of NSW) adopted a pro-fluoridation policy position and recently in state parliament, Andrew McDonald (shadow minister for health, and shadow minister for medical research) put forward a private members bill that will seek to amend the current act and enable the minister to direct a water supply authority to add fluorine to a water supply under its control.

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), “Fluoridation of drinking water remains the most effective and socially equitable means of achieving community-wide exposure to the caries prevention effects of fluoride. It is recommended that water be fluoridated in the target range of 0.6 to 1.1 mg/L, depending on climate, to balance reduction of dental caries and occurrence of dental fluorosis.”