The rot is already starting to show on young childrens’ teeth since the removal of fluoride from New Plymouth’s water, a local dentist says.

This year alone, Dr David Antunovic, Taranaki District Health Board clinical dental leader, who owns two private dental practices, has given 78 children under 5 general anaesthetic to remove their rotten teeth.

So far this year the district health board had referred ten 2-year-olds to get teeth removed under anaesthetic.

Fluoride was taken out of the city’s water in 2011 and dentists are now starting to see the effects of decay in children earlier than before, especially in lower socio-economic families and Maori children, he said.

While sugar had a huge impact on childrens’ oral health, Antunovic also said a big part of the problem was the loss of community water fluoridation.

“We don’t want to see these kids. We want them to be happy and healthy,” he said

New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd said he would not oppose a referendum for the district.

“My personal view is that it’s a health issue and we are not fully mandated to make that decision as we aren’t experts,” Judd said.

District health board oral health educator Daneille Walden said a lot of decay is caused by children drinking sugary drinks.

“It’s something sweet that tastes good and it’s addictive. They see Mum drinking it and they want some,” she said.

Antunovic said that because Coke and other fizzy drinks were so cheap they were often the first choice for people on a tight budget and it was hard to change peoples’ behaviour.

Manager of community oral health Heather Krutz agreed they were seeing the effects of having no fluoride in the water, especially when it came to under-privileged families.

“If you toss up between a cheap toothpaste and a loaf of bread, what are you going to choose?”

In a review of water fluoridation released in August, the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman explains that a low level of fluoride in the mouth has been proved to combat the effects of plaque bacteria.

Waldon said without the fluoride in water it’s hard to get it into young children because it is often a struggle to get them to stand still while their teeth are brushed.

“Tooth brushing is about starting a habit,” she said.