A Timaru dentist is backing central Government moves to take decisions relating to the fluoridation of drinking water away from district councils.
Mark Goodhew told Stuff he thought the change was a good decision and he hoped it would be implemented soon.
“I think that there will be some relieved district councillors who probably never wanted to be landed with public health decisions like water fluoridation in the first place.”
It was announced by the Ministry of Health on March 18 that a Supplementary Order Page will shift the responsibility onto the health ministry’s director general Dr Ashley Bloomfield. The change comes as the Fluoridation of Drinking Water Amendment Bill, that aimed to shift responsibility for fluoridation from councils to district health boards, has languished since 2016 and not been implemented.
“The proposed Bill rightly puts the decision in the hands of the Health Ministry Director General, and I am pleased to see it may finally happen,” Goodhew said.
“There is no reason to think, that if the Director General of Health has the ability to require water fluoridation, that it will not happen.”
He does not think people will notice any changes.
“I anticipate a measurable improvement over the long term in the oral health of the local community,” Goodhew said.
Timaru District Council removed fluoride from Timaru’s water supply on July 23, 1985, after being lobbied by anti fluoride campaigners led by the late Imelda Hitchcock. She claimed her own health problems were a consequence of the fluoridated water which had been implemented since 1973, and had vanished when she drank unfluoridated water.
Timaru’s water is still fluoride free, but is chlorinated, as is Pleasant Point’s water supply which was chlorinated from last year.
New Zealand water generally has naturally occurring fluoride of 0.1 to 0-2mg/litre. When fluoride is added it takes it up to 0.7 to 1.0mg/L.
According to the Ministry of Health, fluoride makes teeth more resistant to decay by strengthening the enamel, slows the growth of bacteria which causes cavities and repairs early damage of tooth decay. The ministry said less than half of New Zealand’s population have fluoridated water supply and 6500 children under the age of nine were admitted to hospital for tooth decay and associated infections throughout the country in 2019.
Timaru environment and health advocate Kate Elsen said she was disappointed by the centralisation move after such heated discussions in the past.
“The local government wanted the right to retain the authority to decide in their own regions according to local wishes.”
On the other hand, she said she was concerned with the rising levels of tooth decay and the costs of treating it.
“I have faith this government will not be taking this democratic right away lightly without huge consideration for those less fortunate in our society,” Elsen said.
Timaru District mayor Nigel Bowen said he thought it was a decision that best sat with Central Government as it was a national health related issue.