TASMANIAN dentists are pushing for greater fluoridation of water in rural communities to combat the state’s poor oral health.
Dental experts are also concerned the growing trend of drinking bottled water is denying children fluoride and leading to a rise in tooth decay.
According to data from TasWater, 36 towns do not have fluoridated water supply.
Tasmania has the worst adult oral health in Australia — blamed partly on a more decentralised population reliant on non-fluoridated drinking water.
University of Tasmania associate professor of oral health Leonard Crocombe said fluoridated tap water was a simple preventive measure.
He said research showed Tasmanian children’s rates of tooth decay at the age of six started to rise again in the mid 1990s after decades of decline.
“I think this is partly because of more hidden sugars in the diet — but also linked to the consumption of bottled water,” he said.
“Most bottled water does not contain fluoride.”
The Tasmanian branch of the Australian Dentists Association has highlighted concerns about fluoridation levels in a submission to the State Government’s draft “Healthy Tasmania — Five Year Strategic Plan”.
The association called for communities with as few as 500 people have access to fluoridated water supplies.
It also urged a crackdown on smoking to improve oral health — backing a plan for a “smoke-free generation” rather than a proposal to increase the legal smoking age to 21 or 25.
Dr Crocombe said Tasmania had a proud history of ensuring rural communities had access to fluoridated water.
He said Tasmania was the first and only state which had ensured that all towns down to a population of 1000 had fluoridated water supplies — which is still the threshold.
“Tasmania should be proud of this but we cannot afford to ‘rest on our laurels’ with oral health being poor in rural areas,” Dr Crocombe said.
“Cost-effective water fluoridation options are now available for smaller communities.”
In its submission, the association said Tasmanians were more likely to have fewer than 21 teeth than their mainland counterparts. The average adult has 32 teeth.
It said dental conditions were the primary reason for acute preventable hospital admissions in Tasmania.
“Tasmania is more decentralised, has an older population, lower socio-economic status, and a higher proportion of people eligible for public dental care than mainland Australia,” the submission says.
“The prevalence and recurrences of these impacts constitutes a silent epidemic. Dental caries is the second most costly diet-related disease in Australia, with an economic impact comparable with that of heart disease and diabetes.”
Towns without fluoridated water are: Adventure Bay, Bell Bay, Bicheno, Bothwell, Bracknell, Branxholm, Colebrook, Coles Bay, Conara, Cornwall, Currie, Derby, Dowlings Creek, Ellendale, Epping, Fingal, Gladstone, Gormanston, Grassy, Gretna, Herrick, Judbury, Lady Barron, Legerwood, Mathinna, Maydena, Mole Creek, Mountain River, Ouse, Pioneer, Ringarooma, Scamander, Tullah, Tunbridge, Wayatinah and Whitemark.