The local fluoride debate has been sparked again with a proposal to have district health boards rather than local councils decide whether water supplies should be fluoridated.

The announcement was made yesterday by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

Dr Coleman said water fluoridation had been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and other international health authorities as "the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay".

"Moving the decision-making process from local councils to DHBs is recognition that water fluoridation is a health-related issue," Mr Dunne said.


Lakes DHB chief executive Ron Dunham said the board supported the proposed change.

He said the health board would work closely with the authorities to improve the oral health of Rotorua's population.

Rotorua dentist and former Lakes DHB chairman Stewart Edward said moving the decision-making power to the health boards would work "only if the Government backed it up with resources and financial support to ensure it didn't fall back on the ratepayers".

"When I was on the board it was a unanimous decision to support fluoridation of our community's water. Fluoridation is one part of a total prevention package and sits nicely with moves to eradicate sugar from diets, make regular dental visits and practise good oral health care," Mr Edward said.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh has previously spoken out about the poor oral health care of children in Rotorua and sees fluoridation of our water as one way to help.

"I think it's an excellent idea and appropriate because it is ultimately a medical issue more adequately dealt with by the DHB.

"I don't accept the argument that putting fluoride in our water is mass medicating, it is something that will benefit the whole community."

But not everyone is in favour of the proposed move.

Councillor Charles Sturt said people should have the right to choose whether they want to ingest fluoride.

"I have been publicly opposed to putting fluoride in our water for the 30 years I have been on council. If people want fluoride they can take tablets or buy fluoride toothpaste. It shouldn't be forced on our community and there will be huge public uproar if it is."

Fluoride Free NZ Rotorua spokesman Alan Solomon said he was displeased with the decision.

"Rotorua doesn't have this chemical in our water because the community didn't want it. This is mandatory fluoridation by stealth, a violation of human rights and takes away our freedom of choice."

A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament this year. Members of the public and organisations will have an opportunity to make submissions to the Health Select Committee.