Editorial: Vote to ditch fluoridation defies all logic

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The Ministry of Health describes fluoride as "safe, effective and affordable". Photo / Greg Bowker
The Ministry of Health describes fluoride as "safe, effective and affordable". Photo / Greg Bowker

According to Hamilton's Deputy Mayor, Gordon Chesterman, there is "a lack of clear proof" of the benefits of fluoridation as well as a continuing drop in support for it.

Obviously, the crystal-clear verdict of the World Health Organisation, the American Dental Association, this country's Ministry of Health and even the Waikato District Health Board has somehow escaped him.

The importance of their opinion has also, unfortunately, eluded the Hamilton City councillors who voted this week to stop putting fluoride in their city's water supply.

They were not, contrary to Mr Chesterman's view, reflecting a drop in popular support for fluoridation. Rather, they were adding their names to the list of councillors who have failed lamentably to stand up for the health of their residents.

Fluoridation, aided and abetted by good diet and hygiene awareness, is the best way to prevent and reduce tooth decay.

The Ministry of Health describes it as "safe, effective and affordable".

The Hamilton council has spent just $40,000 a year to fluoridate the city's water since 1966. During that time, says the Waikato District Health Board, more than $1 million has been saved in dental-care costs.

The sum saved each year is undoubtedly increasing, thanks to the rising consumption of food and drink laden with sugar.

It is, therefore, impossible to quibble with the board's verdict that the upshot of this week's decision will be a costly decline in oral health, in which the poor will suffer most.

Given the abundance of research confirming the benefits of fluoridation, it seems bizarre that its use is even being discussed. Yet the number of councils bowing to the scaremongering of a vocal minority is increasing.

Several towns and cities, including New Plymouth, Taumarunui and Waipukurau, have preceded Hamilton in voting against fluoridation. In each case, councillors let down their communities by failing to heed overwhelming scientific opinion.

Several excuses equally as weak as those given by Mr Chesterman have been offered. One is that fluoridation takes away people's right to choose. That is not strictly correct because those who feel strongly can buy bottled water.

And in fact the reverse is true. Now residents do not have the choice of fluoridated water and its benefits. More importantly, water is an essential item, and it is important that it is as beneficial as possible.

Hamilton's Mayor, Julie Hardaker, raised another objection when she said fluoridation was a public health matter that central government needed to determine. The Government, however, has said that it regards it as a matter of local choice, and has no plans to make fluoridation compulsory.

There is, however, a strong pointer in the 2000 Public Health and Disability Act, which requires the direction of district health boards to be consistent with the New Zealand Health Strategy.

This specifies that oral health initiatives include support for the fluoridation of water supplies. That was yet another signpost ignored by the councils which have withdrawn fluoride.

Indeed, their ineptitude suggests it would be preferable for decisions on fluoridation to be in the hands of district health boards. There would then be a far greater chance of the health of local communities being the top priority, of decisions being based on scientific research, and of rowdy and irrational minorities being ignored.

The Hamilton decision is the more astounding given the results of a referendum held just seven years ago. Such polls can fall victim to the apathy of a satisfied majority. On this occasion, however, 70 per cent of those who voted were in favour of retaining fluoridation.

That is a telling result. It also offers the harshest commentary on the council's decision. Now, it is the children of that large majority of Hamiltonians who will suffer the consequences.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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