Water Fluoridation Ordinance: “Making dental care affordable” – Waititi
Dentists and politicians are welcoming a Department of Health directive to fluoridate Rotorua’s water, but a local MP says cheaper trips to the dentist would be more effective.
The reactions follow Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield’s announcement on Wednesday that 14 local authorities – including the Rotorua Lakes Council – would be asked to add fluoride to some or all of their water supplies.
It was the first time the power had been used since a law change last year to activate it.
The Rotorua Lakes Board has been asked to add fluoride to two of its nine supplies – the central and eastern water supplies.
The government was adding a financial sweetener, however, with an invitation for the 14 local authorities to apply for a slice of an $11.3 million fund for capital projects enabling fluoridation.
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, a former midwife, said fluoridation was controversial and “often emotional” but “long overdue”.
“I have always believed that decisions about whether to fluoridate or not should rest with the health authorities responsible for public health, rather than leaving them to local authorities.
“Successive [Rotorua] the councils were unable to reach a consensus and the vote was always against fluoridation.
“Some in our community will be upset about this, but as a former medical professional and former Associate Minister of Health, I personally support fluoridation as a public health initiative.”
Retired Rotorua dentist Stewart Edward said fluoride was an ‘important part’ of a ‘toolbox’ for dental health, alongside consistent dental hygiene, regular dental visits and good nutrition.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m glad to see it.”
He said there was so much analysis of its benefits that it was time it became a “natural part” of tooth decay prevention.
“Oral health is such an important part of overall health.”
He said it had been a “contentious issue for some time”, but implementing it would lead to better health outcomes for the community.
Rotorua District Councilor Fisher Wang said it was a decision he welcomed “with open arms” and was “very long in coming”.
“It is absolutely necessary.
“Such a thing is almost the bare minimum the Department of Health can do to improve dental hygiene in New Zealand.”
He said New Zealand had poor oral hygiene and tooth decay statistics.
“It’s a serious problem that really needs to be addressed, and it’s one of the stepping stones to fixing it.”
He said dental services were often “unaffordable” for some families and fluoridation would help alleviate this, although it would take some time to bear fruit.
He said there was “some concern” from some people about fluoride, but there was “so much research” not just in New Zealand but around the world on fluoride.
Wang said it was something he wanted to change when he was elected to the council, but after the law was changed in 2021 it was removed from the hands of the councils.
MP for Waiariki and co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, Rawiri Waititi, said the priority should be to make oral health check-ups affordable, alongside increasing oral health education in schools and with whānau.
“We’re not going to drink our way to improving oral health inequities for whānau.
“Access to oral care is a major issue for our Maori and Pasifika communities.
“What also helps prevent tooth decay is eating healthy foods. Solutions such as removing the GST from healthy kai such as fruits and vegetables, so whānau can afford to live a mode healthier lives, will help change the health inequities our communities face in the long term.”
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said he was fine with the decision being taken out of the hands of politicians and left to medical professionals, but said he had been pushing for local communities to be consulted.
“It doesn’t seem like that happened.”
He was also concerned that the funding for its implementation would not go far enough and did not want to see the taxpayers of Rotorua paying the bill.
The Rotorua Lakes Council’s acting deputy chief executive for infrastructure and environmental solutions, Regan Fraser, said the council would review the information provided and consider the steps needed to implement the directive.
This would include upgrades to the drinking water treatment plant for central and eastern supplies, he said.
“Fluoridation is a policy issue that has been repeatedly considered by elected members in the past, with successive councils voting against the introduction of fluoride into our water supplies.”
The board recently considered fluoridation in 2014, he said.
Lyall Thurston, who was formerly a member of the Lakes District Health Board before it disbanded on July 1, said he understood fluoridation was a “polarizing” issue but was “guided by medical professionals”, saying especially dentists.
He said the directive was “a major public health initiative”.
On Wednesday, Bloomfield said fluoridation has been shown to be a “safe, affordable and effective method to prevent tooth decay.”
“Community water fluoridation benefits everyone, but especially children, Maori, Pasifikas and our most vulnerable.”
He said fluoridation was supported by the Pasifika Dental Association and Te Ao Mārama (the Maori Dental Association).
“Water fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay, along with brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, eating healthy foods, and avoiding sugary drinks.
“The fluoride in water acts as a constant repair kit for your teeth.”
The role of fluoride in water has been “well studied” around the world, including in New Zealand, over the past 60 years, Bloomfield said.
The chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office also reviewed new information on water fluoridation and found there was no evidence that the levels of fluoride used in New Zealand were causing health problems important.
“Fluoridated water is safe for everyone – including babies and the elderly – and fluoride occurs naturally in air, soil, fresh water, sea water, plants and food. “said Bloomfield.
The 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey showed that children and adolescents living in areas with fluoridated water had a 40% lower incidence of tooth decay than those living in areas without fluoridated water. .
The Health (Drinking Water Fluoridation) Amendment Act 2021 transferred decision-making power over community water fluoridation from local authorities to the Chief Health Officer on the grounds that it was a ‘health-based decision’, according to a ministry statement. of Health said.
The department estimated that adding fluoride to the water supply of all 14 local authority areas would increase the percentage of New Zealanders receiving fluoridated water from 51% to 60%.
He also said it was likely that later this year the Chief Health Officer would “actively consider” whether to issue new instructions for fluoridation.
“The Department of Health will track improvements over time in the oral health of communities receiving water fluoridation.”
Other councils that received the directive on Wednesday were Whangārei District Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Waitaki District Council, Waipā District Council, Tauranga City Council, Tararua District, New Plymouth District Council, Nelson City Council, Kawerau District Council, Horowhenua District Council, Hastings District Council, Far North District and Auckland Council.
The amount of time each local authority would have to fluoridate its water varies between six months and more than three years, depending on the circumstances of the supply.
Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air