Children’s rotten teeth are taking a big chunk out of hospital services, according to health officials who are renewing calls to fluoridate Blenheim’s water supply.
Teeth and other dental problems have been identified as the major cause of hospital admissions of children in the region.
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board’s community and public health advisory committee, in an update of public health service work, said this meant fluoridation of water should be reconsidered.
Health board community paediatrician Nick Baker said dental caries is the most common disease in children.
“In Nelson Marlborough nearly 50 per cent of children will have dental caries by their fifth birthday. It is therefore no surprise that it’s a common cause of admission to hospital.”
He also said 3 to 8-year-olds often need to be given a general anaesthetic because they cannot tolerate dental work without it.
However, compared with other non-fluoridated areas in New Zealand, Nelson and Marlborough have a higher percentage of five-year-olds without caries. According to School Dental Service data from 1990 to 2007, dental caries admissions of preschool and school-age children declined in this region when the rest of the country experienced a marked increase, in fact a doubling of admissions for 13 to 18-year-olds.
Blenheim dentists have pushed for the addition of fluoride before. John Beattie, who could not be contacted today, was keen to see fluoridation introduced into the area three years ago. He said 15 to 20 per cent of the population were at risk because they did not seek help until they had multiple dental problems.
There was a similar push for fluoridation in Nelson about the same time.
As of June 2006 there were 117 fluoridated water supplies around the country covering 58 per cent of the population, or 2.1 million New Zealanders. The first fluoridation began in Hastings in 1954 and the practice spread to other regions by the mid-1960s.
Blenheim’s water is not treated with fluoride or chlorine but receives a dose of lime water to control pH levels and prolong the life of the region’s pipes. The water is sampled for quality at three sites twice a week.
Blenheim’s water comes from nine wells that tap into a shallow aquifer. Other water treatment stations are dotted around Marlborough in Havelock, Wairau Valley, Renwick, Picton and Riverlands.
Marlborough District Council did not respond to a request for comment on the fluoridation debate.
More than 70 years ago, dental researchers in the United States noticed that people in some areas had much lower decay rates than their neighbours. Subsequently it was found that the difference was due to the levels of fluoride in the drinking water. Those communities with low levels of fluoride had more tooth decay.
The connection between dental decay and the amount of fluoride in water was first noted in the early 1900s, when it was observed that residents and immigrants in some parts of the US developed brown stains on their teeth. These stained teeth, although unsightly, were highly resistant to dental decay.
Meanwhile, a $4 million boost for new dental services last October means the Nelson Marlborough region will get five new dental clinics and two new mobile dental clinics. Health board district manager for oral health Pat Davidsen said the project was being phased in over the next three years and it is in the process of appointing a project manager.
On top of the capital funding, the board will also benefit from new operating funding of $300,000 in 2008-09 rising to $1.050 million per annum by 2011-12.