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by Natasha Parrant

The Timaru District Council is welcoming a proposed law change that would result in the decision on whether to fluoridate water supplies being made at a national level.

The Government has picked up the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill but plans to change it to give responsibility for decisions on fluoridating water supplies to the director-general of health, rather than district health boards.

Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen said he believed the decision about whether to fluoridate water supplies was one that sat best with central government, as it was a national health-related issue.

Timaru’s water supply was fluoridated from the 1960s until about 1984 when the then Timaru City Council decided to discontinue the practice.

The other areas that made up the amalgamated Timaru District Council in 1989 – Strathallan County, and Geraldine and Temuka boroughs – had never fluoridated their water supplies.

Timaru District Council communications manager Stephen Doran said a referendum on fluoridation was held in the early 1990s, but the majority of those who responded did not want fluoride reintroduced.

Long-time Timaru dentist Mark Goodhew, a former Dental Council of New Zealand chairman, said fluoridation was a controversial topic which had many conspiracy theories attached to it.

“I’ve been in favour of water fluoridation for a long time because it is a safe and effective way to reduce the costs and trauma of dental cavities.

“Water fluoridation was stopped in Timaru in a bizarre decision by the Timaru City Council in 1984, and I think it would be a sensible public health measure to change that decision.”

Dr Goodhew said he believed the only change people would notice from the proposed change would be the improvement of oral health.

He said the New Zealand Oral Health Survey estimated that for children and adolescents there was a 40% lower lifetime incidence of dental decay on average for those living in areas with water fluoridation.

For adults, there was a 21% reduction in dental decay for those aged 18 to 44 and a 30% reduction for those 45 and over.

“There is likely to be a 48% reduction in hospital admissions for treatment of tooth decay for children up to the age of 4 years.”