Hear from trusted NZ health professionals and community leaders about community water fluoridation. They talk about the facts, the benefits and dispel some of the myths related to this critical health measure.
Title: Dr Riana Clarke, National Clinical Director of Oral Health, Ministry of Health, on fluoridation
Dr Riana Clarke: Although oral health has really improved for New Zealanders over the last number of decades, dental decay is still the most common chronic disease for New Zealanders.
Despite widespread use of fluoride toothpaste and having publicly provided dental services, we're still seeing high levels of dental decay in our populations.
By the time children are starting school, 1 in 7 of them have already suffered from severe decay.
Title: Dental decay is a serious problem
Dr Riana Clarke: Early childhood decay can cause extreme pain and the children who are suffering from early childhood decay, they can lose sleep, they may have to take time off school, some of them may even end up having to go to hospital and have a general anaesthetic to have dental treatment.
The results from the New Zealand Health Survey for the period 2014 to 2015 reported that an alarming number of children - 29,000 had one or more teeth removed in that time.
Title: It's Effective
Dr Riana Clarke: Community water fluoridation helps to protect our teeth over and above those other things we might do to protect our teeth.
For example, we may brush our teeth with fluoride toothpaste, we might reduce the sugar levels in our diet, and we may drink lots of water - but community water fluoridation will help strengthen our teeth over and above this.
there is a huge body of evidence, both internationally and here in New Zealand, that shows that water fluoridation significantly reduces decay levels for both adults and children.
In the most recent New Zealand Oral Health survey in 2009, the figures showed that for those living in a community with water fluoridation that children and adolescents experienced 40 percent less decay than those who lived in a non-fluoridated area.
Water fluoridation plays a role in protecting the teeth of the whole community and this has been recommended by the World Health Organization, our own Minister of Health here in New Zealand, and by many respected health organisations throughout the world.
Title: It's safe
Dr Riana Clarke: Based on international and New Zealand evidence, we can say that at the levels we add fluoride to the water here in New Zealand, there is absolutely no health risk.
Community Water Fluoridation. Effective. Safe. Affordable.
Title: Dr Lance O'Sullivan - a rural GP's perspective on water fluoridation.
Dr Lance O'Sullivan: Yeah, I think there's a need to take action on the appalling level of dental health that we - or dental disease that we see in a community such as Kaitaia, the Far North, and in regions such as Northland.
I was shocked and appalled to see that none of the district councils in Northland have fluoride in their water - despite
the fact that one of our top ten health problems in north - in the north is dental disease. So, gum disease tooth disease, decay.
So I'm really concerned that, you know, we aren't doing anything to address this.
We certainly aren't doing it at a sort of a level of reducing the amount of soft drinks that people are - you know, kids are taking on a daily basis.
We are trying to do something around encouraging parents to get their kids to brush their teeth but to be honest in a region, in a community such as the one I work in, where we have an epidemic of dental disease it's negligent not to put fluoride - which we know works - into the water.
A really common scenario that I'm seeing in Kaitaia is adults presenting with absolutely terrible teeth and a real common comment they all make is that they just can't afford - they can't afford to maintain their teeth because it's too expensive to go the doctor's on a regular - the dentist's, sorry, on a regular occurrence so they wait until things get so bad that they pull their teeth out.
Or they wait till things get to the point where they're abscessed and they can - then they'll have to go into hospital for intravenous antibiotics or you know have extractions because there's no other option left.
I think that's really poor. And I think that's on the basis of not having had a strong preventative programme strategy in place. You know, these people are making the option - generally they're making the option of having their teeth extracted at the point when the things are just too bad, they can't tolerate the pain, they're sick
of having infections.
And that's not giving people a fair chance at life and, I mean, we're talking about adults there - we're seeing the same numbers of children turn up with, you know, painful infections.
You know, how can a child learn in a class, if they're sitting in the back of the class and all they're thinking of is the throbbing pain that's going on in their head.
Or they're got a fever and swelling over their face because of an infection. You know, this is what we see.
It's costly to the family, it's costly to the patient, it's costly to us as a society when we
take into account the downstream effects of poorer dental health.
There is a very vocal and active anti-fluoride lobby.
There's a very vocal and active anti-immunisation lobby.
And unfortunately for me as a Maōri doctor working among Māori communities their messages resonate with my community and it's very hard.
It's very hard.
But, you know, I often say to mums and dads who're sitting there and don't want to immunise their children, in the cases of fluoride, I'd say the same thing.
You know, they're the people that are bringing these messages come from such a different background to the people that they're promoting the message to.
You know, they're coming along to our communities and they come from backgrounds that don't include include the poverty, the neglect, the significant health risks that they're born with - and they're saying that, you know, the benefit of - the risk of fluoride is far greater for you than the benefits but they're coming from their perspective.
You know, a lot of the research that I've seen for anti-immunisation stuff is coming from communities that don't look like communities I serve.
And it's the same with the fluoride argument.
You know, I don't think we're comparing apples with apples and actually the people that are promoting anti-fluoride and anti-immunisation messages, I actually think are doing a massive disservice to the health needs of these people.
So if I was to talk to someone who to give them my opinion on the importance of fluoride in the water, I'd be saying, look, we have overwhelming significant levels of dental disease in our community. We have problems with levels of education and economic you know, depression, if you like, up here.
That means that we're getting a lot of kids that are coming from homes don't have a lot of things - they don't have a lot of money, they don't have a lot of education in the household. And those two things combined are going to mean that you know, simple health messages aren't necessarily always going to be taken up - the importance of not, you know, not sending your child to school with the lolly water every day. Not, you know, making sure that your child's not eating lollies five, six, seven times a day.
Making sure that they're brushing their teeth twice a day. You know, in this community, if I was to say to a patient sitting in front of me I'd say the risks are incredibly high of dental disease and, you know, to address their we can do something that's safe, that will at least give some assurance to you and your family that there is a - there is something being put in place to try and reduce the level of dental decay that you and your family are going to be exposed to.