Garth George: Something in the water - and let's keep it there

By Garth George

Fluoridation does not affect water purity, the Ministry of Health says.
Fluoridation does not affect water purity, the Ministry of Health says.

How good it is to see the Ministry of Health and professional groups, both medical and dental, begin to fight back against the tiny but vociferous groups of ignorant scaremongers who continue to oppose fluoridation of public water supplies.

The focus of the battle has shifted to Hamilton and the Hastings area. In Hamilton, where the local council decided out of the blue in June to discontinue fluoridation, and in Hastings-Havelock North-Flaxmere, referendums on fluoridation will be held with the local body elections next month.

And the first question you have to ask is why? Fluoride has been added to Hastings water supplies for just on 60 years (since 1954) and to Hamilton water supplies since the 1960s.

So several generations of children and adults living in those cities, and in the in the 80-odd other areas in New Zealand where water is fluoridated, have enjoyed tremendous benefits to oral health - and absolutely no deleterious effects.

This is hard, verifiable evidence based on thorough, scientific surveys held regularly over the past 60 years. The most recent Ministry of Health survey reveals that children in fluoridated areas suffer 40 per cent less tooth decay than those in non-fluoridated areas.

But in unfluoridated Northland alone, 65 per cent of 5-year-olds have tooth decay, and in other non-fluoridated areas such as Rotorua and Tauranga the incidence of serious tooth decay has reached epidemic proportions, particularly among deprived children and especially Maori.

On top of that, Ministry of Health surveys show that there have been no significant differences in the prevalence of fluorosis (a possible side-effect of having too much fluoride during early tooth development) between people living in fluoridated areas and those in non-fluoridated areas.

"The added fluoride poses no health risk at this level and does not change the nature or purity of drinking water," the ministry reports.

Then there's the fact that more than 300 million people in 39 countries have access to fluoridated drinking water, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, Spain, Britain and the United States.

In this country 68 per cent of the population on reticulated water have the benefits of fluoridation. As I have said, this is hard evidence, accumulated over generations, of the benefits and safety of fluoridated public water supplies.

So what do the anti-fluoridation groups have to offer? Very little apart from so-called research which isn't research at all but theories which have been put together to support a pre-conceived outcome.

And that has to fail in the face of New Zealand's long experience of fluoridated water supplies - experience with which no one can argue, except of course those ignorant and fanatical paranoids who keep flogging a dead horse.

Just what has got into the Hamilton City Council I don't know, but it must have anti-fluoridationists in its ranks.

A leaflet sent out by the council to explain its controversial decision to remove fluoride was slammed by dental authorities. Dr Jonathan Broadbent, a public health dentistry specialist and researcher from the University of Otago's Faculty of Dentistry, said the one-page leaflet's oral health information is "wrong, unscientific and misleading" and residents should disregard it.

And Dr Geoff Lingard, president of the Dental Association, said: "[The council] is not an authority on dental public health and is giving advice well outside its remit as a civic authority."

That, unsurprisingly, reeks of some sort of covert collusion between councillors, or their bureaucrats, with the sadly misguided anti brigade.

But the news is not all bad.

In December last year the South Taranaki District Council resolved to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley. The Mayor, Ross Dunlop, said fluoridation was the single most important thing the council could do to improve the oral health of children and adults.

Bless that wise man.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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