OTAGO District Health Board is an active player in the fluoridation debate in the region. During last year’s local authority elections, alongside a Vote Fluoride publicity campaign, the board sponsored a fluoridation referendum in areas of Otago and Southland where the water supply was not fluoridated.

Non-fluoridated areas of Dunedin were not included because the city council had already voted on the issue.

The referendum had a mixed result.

The board would follow up with local authorities to encourage them to begin fluoridating, board chairman Richard Thomson said.

In August last year, the health board launched a website and free-phone line to promote fluoridation in non-fluoridated areas of the Waitaki, Clutha, Central Otago and Southland.

The campaign aimed to give residents of those areas “the chance to learn all about fluoride in drinking water” ahead of the October referendum on whether fluoride should be added to their water supplies, the Vote Fluoride press release said.

The health board suggested the referendum to the local authorities and offered to pay for it because “in some of those areas tooth decay in children is far higher than elsewhere”, Mr Thomson said.

Opposition to fluoridation meant local authorities tended to be “a bit afraid” to tackle the issue, he said.

“We thought we could help by putting a balanced view out thee.”

Dunedin mayor Peter Chin was approached about holding a referendum in non-fluoridated parts of Dunedin but declined, health board chief executive Brian Rousseau said.

“Dunedin City Council had recently voted on the issue of fluoridation in March and, because of this, the mayor considered that it was not necessary [nor] appropriate to revisit this issue at that time,” Mr Rousseau said.

The referendum results were:
Waitaki, 6363 against, 2900 for;
Southland, 4599 against, 3377 for;
Clutha, 745 against, 1150 for, and;
Central Otago, 3157 against, 3396 for.

The board hoped that as a result of the referendum the local authorities of Central and South Otago would opt to fluoridate their water supplies.

“The matter is now in the local authorities’ hands,” Mr Thomson said.

“We hope they will choose to fluoridate.

“We will have follow-up conversations with the local authorities in the next few months.”

Asked what plans the board had for non-fluoridated areas of Dunedin, Mr Rousseau said “It would be preferable for people in these areas to have access to fluoridated water.

“ODHB would support any initiative by the DCC to extend water fluoridation into these areas.”

Fluoridation advocates: Otago District Health Board chief executive Brian Rousseau (left) and chairman Richard Thomson want to support local authorities seeking to extend fluoridation in their areas.