A Newman government law change allowing Queensland councils to opt out of the water fluoridation scheme needs to be reversed, according to the co-author of a new study confirming that children living in areas that don’t have fluoridated water are at much greater risk of tooth decay.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland, found children who had limited exposure to fluoride combined with a high sugar intake were 70 per cent more likely to develop cavities in their adult teeth.
The researchers looked at data from 24,664 children across Australia, and Professor Loc Do from UQ’s School of Dentistry said the findings backed up the well-documented benefits of access to fluoride via drinking water.
Professor Do said Queensland in particular needed to take note of the research because 19 local government areas lacked fluoridated water – the worst coverage in the country.
He said the combination of no fluoride in the water supply combined with a diet high in sugar had the worst effect.
“We know that independently, those are important determinants for oral health, but we were interested to know how those two things worked together,” he said.
“The results show that when those two factors are both present, the risk of dental decay in children increases significantly.”
In 2008 the Bligh Labor government made fluoridation mandatory across the state, however the subsequent Newman LNP government amended the laws to allow councils to opt out.
UQ co-author Dr Diep Ha said the data clearly showed the laws needed to be amended again to ensure all Queenslanders were benefiting from fluoridated water.
“These facts are not surprising or new, however the results from almost 25,000 young people in this study show there is still a need to address these issues to improve child dental health in Australia,” Dr Ha said.
“To achieve maximum prevention of dental decay, the lack of exposure to fluoridated water and high intake of sugars should be targeted.”
The researchers used data from the National Child Oral Health Study 2012-14 for their survey, which covered children across the country aged 5-14.
More than half of the children were considered to have either low exposure to fluoridation, classified as less than 25 per cent of their life, or medium exposure of between 25-75 per cent of their life.
Approximately 60 per cent consumed four or more daily servings of food or drinks high in sugar.
Children who consumed diets high in sugar but who also had high exposure to fluoridated water were 40 per cent less likely to develop cavities in their baby teeth than those with low or medium fluoridation.
They were also 50 per cent less likely to develop cavities in their adult teeth than those with lower levels of fluoridation.
The research has been published in the Journal of Dental Research.