Health Minister Andrew Little has a taste for adding fluoride to the nation’s water supplies, confirming to Stuff the Government’s intention to strip councils of their fluoridation powers and hand them to DHBs.
In a move that’s sure to enrage local anti fluoride activists, Little confirmed that a proposal in 2016 that the decision-making powers on fluoridating water supplies transfer from local councils to district health boards was still the plan.
He’s also prepared to argue the case with any opponents.
“Let’s have a good public debate, let’s challenge those who want to ignore the science – let’s take them on, head on, because it’s time we did that,” Little said on Friday in Nelson, where the water is fluoride free.
“We have to grapple with this problem because oral health is absolutely vital to overall health.”
Water fluoridation was “a policy we’re considering right now”.
“We are looking at it and that’s one of [Associate Health Minister Dr] Ayesha Verrall’s tasks is to look at it, and regulating the public water supply,” Little said. “I can’t give you a timeline but it’s kind of front and centre of the public health issues that we’re dealing with so there will be a decision.”
Fluoridation has long been backed by many dentists, some former health ministers and district health boards. In 2015, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board confirmed its position, endorsing community water fluoridation as an important public health measure to maintain good oral health, prevent tooth decay and reduce health inequalities.
At the time, chief medical officer Dr Nick Baker said it was important the community was outraged about the right things as fluoride was a solution to a serious problem.
“The thing to be outraged about is that 50 per cent of our kids have got a body part rotting by their fifth birthday,” Baker said. “And we’ve got an older population of people keeping their teeth to maturity who actually are vulnerable to tooth decay so all the community will benefit.”
Any proposal to fluoridate water supplies is likely to prompt protests. In 2017, a group of protesters marched in the streets of Nelson and took a letter to Nelson City Council, saying it was “unethical to use our water supply to deliver a chemical …. for a forced treatment”.
Fluoride was not added to the council’s water supplies.
Nelson MP Rachel Boyack said oral health could have an effect on other parts of the body such as the heart.
She had always been supportive of adding fluoride to water supplies.
“My father being a health board chief exec when I was child in an area that didn’t have fluoride in the water, we were given tablets every night and look, I have teeth in really good condition because of the choices my parents made around fluoride, and we have to actually back the science on it,” she said.
Little said another challenge in regard to oral health was “what we do with sugar in food”.
“Sugar is in so many food items now.”
Little said as Health Minister, he wanted to see “primary and community healthcare really beefed up”.
“We still haven’t done well when it comes to primary and community healthcare so actually beefing up primary and community healthcare means we have a better chance of people getting the healthcare they need before they wind up in hospital,” he said.
“That makes a big difference, getting on top of conditions earlier – people’s blood pressure problems, people’s early mental health issues – so that we prevent them having to come to and require acute services.”
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* Why has Government proposed DHBs decide on water fluoridation? And what is fluoride anyway?
* DHB in favour of water fluoridation