The Ministry of Health strongly supports water fluoridation as a safe, effective and affordable way to prevent and reduce tooth decay across the whole population. Most tooth decay is preventable, and water fluoridation is a simple way to prevent it.
Fluoride levels in water are carefully controlled
The Ministry of Health recommends the adjustment of fluoride to between 0.7 and 1.0 parts per million in drinking water as the most effective and efficient way of preventing dental caries in communities receiving a reticulated water supply, and strongly recommends the continuation and extension of water fluoridation programmes where technically feasible.
A little fluoride every day strengthens teeth
New Zealand’s natural levels of fluoride are too low in most parts of the country to provide dental protection. Fluoride in drinking water helps to reduce tooth decay by strengthening and rebuilding tooth enamel. It can also slow down and repair early signs of tooth decay.
The added fluoride poses no health risk at this level and does not change the nature or purity of drinking water.
Water fluoridation provides protection across the whole community
Water fluoridation can benefit everyone regardless of age or income. It gives the greatest benefits to children and those most at risk of tooth decay, but adults benefit too. Water fluoridation reduces both the amount of dental decay and its severity.
New Zealand research shows the benefits of fluoridation
The recent NZ Oral Health Survey shows that people living in fluoridated areas have, on average, less current or previous tooth decay than those in un-fluoridated areas.
A 2004 study Water fluoridation and dental caries in 5- and 12-year-old children from Canterbury and Welllington (HubMed website) showed that in fluoridated areas, 5-year olds had 30 percent less decay and 12 year olds had 40 percent less decay compared to children in un-fluoridated areas.
International evidence supports water fluoridation
A large body of robust scientific literature supports water fluoridation. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has commented on the science of water fluoridation in his article What is in the water?
Water fluoridation is recommended by key public health agencies, as seen in the following policy statements:
- World Health Organization statement on water fluoridation
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement on community water fluoridation
- World Dental Federation statement on water fluoridation (PDF, 20 KB)
- NZ College of Public Health Medicine statement on water fluoridation.
Claims by opponents of fluoridation that it leads to cancers, bone fractures and other serious conditions are not supported by evidence. Often ‘evidence’ quoted by opponents has been derived from studies where the levels of naturally occurring fluoride levels are so high that fluoride levels need to be reduced, such as some parts of China and the USA.
Countries similar to New Zealand also support water fluoridation, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada.
Fluoridation policy is up to date
The Ministry regularly reviews international scientific research on fluoridation to make sure its position is based on evidence, is consistent with best practice, and is appropriate for the New Zealand context. An independent expert panel set up by the National Fluoridation Information Service carries out formal reviews for the Ministry.
National Fluoride Information Service
The Ministry of Health has funded a National Fluoride Information Service (NFIS) to provide coordinated clinical and technical support and advice on water fluoridation to District Health Boards (DHBs), Territorial Local Authorities (TLAs) and the Ministry.
NFIS is a consortium led by Regional Public Health, and includes the Hutt Valley DHB Community Dental Services, Environmental Science and Research, Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University and the National Poisons Centre.
There is ongoing research and monitoring around the world looking at the effectiveness and safety of water fluoridation programmes. NFIS has been established to monitor and assess this work and to provide independent scientific information and technical advice on water fluoridation in New Zealand to DHBs, TLAs and the Ministry.