The NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, has rejected calls to force towns like Oberon and Byron Bay to fluoridate drinking water, saying consultation was more effective than forcing compliance with a “baseball bat”.
Mr Hazzard said local and state governments had a “duty of care to try to win the debate,” and convince councils to add fluoride into the water.
The NSW health department is expected to send Oberon residents an information package this week on the benefits of fluoridation before council votes in July on whether to change its anti-fluoridation position.
But experts like Dr Wendell Evans, the co-chair of the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future, say local government does not have the moral or legal right to deny children and adults access to a proven and cost-effective health benefit.
Dr Evans, the former head of Community Oral Health at Sydney University, conducted much of the research into the impact of fluoridation in NSW.
Health department research presented to Oberon council in 2014 when it last debated fluoridation showed local children aged five to 10 years averaged 3.8 decayed, missing and filled baby teeth compared to only 1.5 teeth in nearby fluoridated Orange.
Children under four from areas without fluoridation were admitted to hospital for removal of bad teeth at four to six times the rate as children in fluoridated areas, the presentation showed.
Because the benefits were proven, the government should either force councils to comply or apply stiff sanctions, Dr Evans aid.
The Opposition’s health spokesman, Walt Secord, also supports a more punitive approach: If elected, he has promised legislation that would fine councils that refuse to fluoridate about $5000 a day.
About 97 per cent of NSW is fluoridated, but 17 of 83 local governments don’t add fluoride to the water.
Mr Hazzard said some remote councils don’t have access to the correct equipment and technical experts required to operate the system safely within the fluoride code.
And he agrees with the Opposition that the tactics used by the anti-fluoride campaigners are similar to the anti-vaccination lobby.