NMDHB = Nelson Marlborough District Health Board
A three-year-old’s 11 rotten teeth sat in a jar on a Nelson City Council table as health board members presented their argument to fluoridate Nelson’s water supply.
Nelson Marlborough DHB principal dental officer Rob Beaglehole said the jar of rotten teeth from the Victory child’s mouth would have been almost halved if he’d been drinking fluoridated water.
“The sad fact of the matter is 45 per cent of 5-year-old kids have tooth decay and around 69 per cent of Maori kids are suffering from it.
“If we had water fluoridation here the tooth decay rates would reduce by at least 40 per cent.”
Adding fluoride to the city’s water supply would improve the dental health of the entire community, particularly children, those in lower income groups and the elderly, and it would reduce inequalities in care, he said.
“We’re passionate about reducing the pain and suffering of the whole community.
“We need to be guided by evidence and World Health Organisation says there are no adverse health effects. We listen to them for everything else but not for this.”
Beaglehole, NMDHB chief executive Chris Fleming, medical officer of health Ed Kiddle and service director Peter Burton presented their argument to councillors at their submission hearing to the long term plan last week.
Fleming said getting fluoride in the region’s water supply, including Marlborough, was the DHB’s number one priority and it needed to be done in partnership with the council.
It is so much of a priority that the DHB had set funds aside for legal costs associated with fluoridation.
Beaglehole said people who did not want fluoride in their water could buy a water filter to remove fluoride and chlorine.
Kiddle applauded the council on its sugary drinks policy and said other councils around the country were looking to follow suit.
The council should continue the good work by addressing the fluoridation issue, he said.
Of the 67 councils around the country only 23, including most of Wellington and Auckland, use fluoridation. The 23 include councils that only have fluoridation in certain areas.
The number of people those councils serve means that about 2.1 million New Zealanders, around half the population, are supplied with fluoridated water.
Attempts to introduce fluoridation are often met with intense opposition and at times legal action. In 2013 Hamilton City Council decided to stop water fluoridation due to health concerns. The move was met with public backlash, which resulted in the reintroduction of the practice.
Claims have been made that exposure to fluoride causes or contributes to cancer, Down syndrome and allergies, amongst other things, and a main argument against it is that it’s mass medication.
Beaglehole rejected that and said a recent High Court statement said it was not considered medication due to the low levels used.
“We need to be guided by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation, we listen to WHO when they put out other policies and statements regarding ebola, different viruses and bird flu, it just doesn’t make any sense.
“If we think about it rationally there’s no point in the government trying to lower the IQ of the population or give the population ME or MS or any of the things that anti-fluoridationists say.”
Nelson mayor Rachel Reese asked the DHB representatives if the council should go to the Ministry of Health “let’s say we were warm to this one”.
Fleming said community consultation was the first step and he urged the council to start a process as soon as possible rather than a referendum, which he said would be more expensive.
Beaglehole, who is also the spokesman for the New Zealand Dental Association, said although the Nelson City Council needed to make the call on fluoridation, the decision should lie with central government.
“We’re hoping that the decision-making process is taken away from the council and given to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health needs to be making the decision, it is a health related issue.”
The Ministry of Health provides councils with up to 50 per cent of the initial set-up cost of fluoridation but it doesn’t contribute to operating costs.
It sets the level of fluoride in the water supply to be between 0.7 to 1.0 parts per million. If the supply goes above that the system can be shut down immediately.