Touted by one side as the great health leveller and the other as a dangerous poison, water fluoridation hit New Plymouth District councillors with both barrels yesterday.

Anti-fluoride campaigners made up the bulk of the audience at day one of the two-day tribunal into the future of water fluoridation in the New Plymouth district.

However, their weight of numbers was matched by the gravitas of the smaller Taranaki District Health Board group, which was the other main submitter on the day.

For the first two hours of the tribunal, councillors heard and asked questions of Whangarei dentist Lawrence Brett and Hamilton doctor Peter Scanlon of anti-fluoride group Fluoride Action Network New Zealand.

During that time, the argument against putting fluoride into water supplies to reduce tooth decay seemed rock solid. Among many things, Mr Brett told councillors the best teeth in the country were found in the non-fluoridated towns in the South Island, and it was diet that determined dental health, not fluoride.

“These are things we have to accept as true. Tooth decay is caused by sugar. Decay is not a result of a shortage of fluoride in our diet, it’s an excess of sugar.”

Dr Scanlon also spoke at length, though concentrated on the health risks that could be associated with the addition of fluoride into drinking water.

“The sophistication and complexity of how a body is means the simplistic one-fits-all approach like the fluoridation of water is such an outrageous concept it is laughable. The Government has dismissed it in light of the expanding evidence that this is a paradigm shift, wake up. Houston, are you there?”

Both men received a standing ovation but was no such reaction to the next submitters, Taranaki District Health Board.

Medical officer of health Greg Simmons told councillors it was his view that water fluoridation was an effective strategy to help those at risk of poor oral health such as Maori and the economically deprived.

He believed water fluoridation was an example of an action where the greater public good outweighed individual choice.

“If you compare it with the compulsory wearing of seatbelts – people complained originally but I don’t hear people complaining now,” he said.

New Plymouth dentist David Antunovic spoke of his personal battle with tooth decay as a child and his daily experience treating children with tooth decay at Taranaki Base Hospital.

He told councillors their decision on fluoride would impact on society and they would be letting the district’s children down if they decided to stop fluoridation.

“Fluoride has no racial, economic or class bias. It benefits all, especially those who need it most. It’s the great leveller of health care policies in our society,” he said.

The issue was last considered by the council in 2000, when after nine hours of submissions, it decided to retain fluoridation in New Plymouth, Waitara, Lepperton and Urenui.

Water in Inglewood, Oakura and Okato is not fluoridated. The tribunal continues today.

A decision on the future of fluoridation in the district is to be made by councillors on October 13.