The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill was initially drafted to give district health boards (DHBs) the power to direct local authorities to fluoridate drinking water.
This was before the government announced the country’s 20 DHBs would be disestablished and replaced by a central health authority, Health NZ, in April.
In light of that, the bill was amended so it transferred power to the director-general of health, instead of DHBs.
It had unanimous support after its third and final reading on Tuesday evening and will become law once it receives Royal Assent.
First introduced under the National government in 2016, the bill is now in the name of Labour MP and Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall.
The new law would ensure a nationally consistent approach to community water fluoridation based on its well-established benefits, Verrall said.
“Tooth decay is a common problem in New Zealand but is largely preventable. In 2019, 6270 children under 14 years old had to have operations or other hospital treatments because of tooth decay or associated infections. Children who are still in nappies are having their teeth removed while under anaesthetic.
“Fluoridating our drinking water is widely recognised as one of the most important measures to improve oral health, because it acts like a constant repair kit – fixing the effect of acids that cause decay.”
Initial funding of $8.3 million, plus an additional $3m per year, will be available to contribute towards local authorities’ fluoridation-related capital works.
The Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor released an evidence update on community water fluoridation in June 2021 confirming there were no negative health effects of significance caused by fluoride at the recommended levels used in New Zealand.
The director-general of health must take into account scientific evidence, cost-effectiveness, and local oral health outcomes when making decisions on whether to fluoridate water supplies from next year.
Local authorities, which will still be responsible for providing safe drinking water to their communities, will be given the opportunity to provide information on costs and compliance dates before decisions are finalised.
Private water supplies will not be required to be fluoridated.