Water fluoridation: Govt proposes law change giving fluoridation decisions to director-general of Health

The Government is proposing a law change giving director-general of Health Ashley Bloomfield oversight for all decisions on fluoridating water supplies.

Currently, decisions on fluoridating water supplies sit with individual local councils and mayors have been divided on the issue.

Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall today announced the proposed change to the Fluoridation Bill saying it would simplify the decision-making and would allow New Zealand to take a “nationally consistent approach that’s based on evidence”.

“The Government is proposing an amendment to see that decision-making sits with the director-general of Health,” Verrall said.

It comes after about 6500 children under the age of 9 were admitted to hospital for tooth decay and associated infections in 2019.

Verrall said the Fluoridation Bill recognised water fluoridation as a health-related issue.

“Right now only around 2.3 million New Zealanders have access to fluoridated drinking water.

“Community water fluoridation is a proven public health measure that will make a big difference to children’s wellbeing.”

The associate health minister said the current level of fluoride found naturally in New Zealand water supplies was not enough to prevent tooth decay.

“‘Topping up’ fluoride levels allows the well-established health benefits to reach all New Zealanders, especially our children, Māori and Pacific populations and people in our poorer communities.”

The Bill was introduced into the House in 2016.

“Given that fluoridating our drinking water is widely recognised as the single-most important initiative to improve oral health, I expect this Bill to pass this year,” Verrall said.

“Local Councils are responsible for the capital and operational costs of fluoridation. There will be funding available to support local councils with fluoridation related infrastructure work,” Verrall said.

For more than 60 years New Zealand has been debating the oral health effects of adding fluoride to water.

A high-level review carried out in 2014, and commissioned by then-chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman and Royal Society Te Aparangi, found fluoride levels used in New Zealand created no health risks and provided protection against tooth decay.

But mayors have remained divided on the issue. In February, Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai told Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan that her community is against compulsorily adding “medical things” to the water supply.

“When we asked our community – which was quite a while ago, probably about 20 years ago – they said no thank you.”

Mai said that she was not opposed to finding out whether the public view has changed in her community, but she did not believe there was any evidence from those other councils that showed fluoride improves oral health.

Hamilton’s mayor was happy to hand over decisions about fluoride. Earlier this year Mayor Paula Southgate told du Plessis-Allan the Government should decide because it has the experts and knowledge.

“As far as I’m concerned, we shouldn’t always have this constant churn of debate at a local government level.”

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