A new bill that gives district health boards responsibility of managing the fluoridation of their councils' reticulated water supplies has had its first reading in Parliament.
The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill has been referred to the Health Select Committee for consideration, and the public will be invited to make submissions.
Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne said moving the decision-making process from councils to DHBs recognised that water fluoridation was a significant public health issue.
"Although New Zealand's oral health has improved over the last 40 years, we still have high rates of preventable tooth decay," he said.
In 2014, more than 40 per cent of all five-year-olds and more than 60 per cent of Māori and Pacific five-year-olds had tooth decay.
They, and children in high-deprivation areas, were also significantly less likely to be enrolled with primary care services at birth.
"That is why, when I assumed responsibility for the oral health portfolio in 2015, progress on fluoridation was at the top of my list," he said.
"We know from international evidence, and from our own experience, that fluoridation is a safe and effective treatment that offers the most gain in improving oral health, particularly amongst children.
"Moving this responsibility to DHBs reflects the government's view that population health issues are best addressed through the elected DHBs, which ensures not only engagement of health professionals but also retains a degree of democratic community involvement."
Once the bill was enacted, DHBs would be able to start making decisions about community water fluoridation (in 2018). Around 54 per cent of public water supplies were fluoridated.