Northland children's shocking dental woes will only be solved when the region fluoridates its water supplies, an oral health expert says.
But opponents of fluoride in water say this would be a forced mass medication of the population and Northlanders have already rejected fluoridation.
None of Northland's water supplies contain fluoride and last week Hamilton voted to end fluoridation after spending about $40,000 a year to fluoridate the city's water since 1966.
The Far North and Whangarei District Councils have voted not to fluoridate their supplies in the past decade, but Northland District Health Board is keen on water fluoridation, saying it is the most cost-effective, practical and safe means for reducing and controlling the occurrence of dental decay in communities of over 1000 people.
Northland children had some of the highest rates of dental caries (decay of tooth or bone) in the country with more than 65 per cent of Northland's 5-year-olds having tooth decay. The DHB says appropriate water fluoridation, through its beneficial effects on oral health, would have a positive impact on the general health and wellbeing of the communities throughout Northland.
Just 23 of New Zealand's 67 local authorities use it in their water supplies.
Otago University senior lecturer on dental decay Jonathan Broadbent said Northland's dental woes wouldn't be solved until fluoridation was the norm.
Dr Broadbent said Northland's situation was worse than in some Third World countries. He said in parts of Papua New Guinea where they fluoridate their water they now have lower rates of dental decay than Northland.
"You are having a lot of young children having to have dental treatment under general anaesthetic, which shows there is something seriously wrong.
"Fluoride is a safe and effective way of treating the problem and improving the dental health of your children. The Ministry of Health supports it, as does the Dental Council, the Maori dental group and the vast majority of scientists and dental experts."
He said it was a shame that Northland councils had rejected fluoridation as two-year fluoride trials in the Kaitaia and Kaikohe water supplies had led to a drop in tooth decay in children there.
But Whangarei dentist Lawrie Brett from the Fluoride Action Network said the Dental Council, Ministry of Health and others promoting fluoridation were wrong and there was a growing body of research that showed it was a toxin that should not be put into water supplies.
"And the people of Northland are saying they don't want it. We've had referenda in Whangarei and the Far North where people listened to the debate and made an informed decision not to accept it," Dr Brett said.