Health boards intend to hit anti-fluoridation city and district councils in the pocket.

Auckland District Health Board chairman Wayne Brown said yesterday that he favoured billing the Auckland City Council for a 2001 fluoridation decision that was keeping dental treatment costs unnecessarily high.

The council in 2001 voted narrowly against adding fluoride to the water supply in Onehunga.

Mr Brown did not specify the costs and no statistics had been produced specifically comparing Onehunga children’s mouths with the rest of Greater Auckland.

But a board Public Health Service report says 56 per cent of New Zealand’s population receives fluoridated water, saving up to $15.7 million a year in dental treatment. It estimates that if 75 per cent received fluoridated water the savings could reach $23.5 million.

Advocates of fluoridation, including the Health Ministry, say it is a safe way of reducing dental decay. Opponents, like the Fluoride Action Network, say it brings no significant benefits and is a health risk.

Mr Brown said the idea of billing councils was floated at a meeting of health board chairpeople, by those whose districts’ water supplies were largely unfluoridated.

Health Minister Annette King said yesterday that while there was no legislative backing for the move, she understood health boards’ frustration over councils’ not fluoridating water.

“I want boards to take a strong lead on fluoridation and many do.”

Mr Brown also suggested that fluoridation opponents should have state-paid dental care – which is mainly for children and adolescents – revoked.

“The point is to remind people that when they make these noble gestures that somebody else usually suffers the financial consequences.”

“There’s a lot of health problems come up with young people having poor dental hygiene. [Non-fluoridation] starts a long trip downhill.”

Mr Brown agreed that councils were unlikely to pay up and billing them would be largely symbolic.

Auckland City Mayor John Banks dismissed Mr Brown’s suggestion. He jokingly said Auckland City would pay up if the health board paid council rates on its new hospital, which likewise lacked legislative backing. Yesterday’s call from the Herald was the first time anyone had raised the fluoridation issue with him, he said, since shortly after he was elected in 2001.