DHBs rather than local authorities will decide on which community water supplies are fluoridated under proposed changes announced today by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
“New Zealand has high rates of preventable tooth decay and increasing access to fluoridated water will improve oral health, and mean fewer costly trips to the dentist for more New Zealanders,” says Dr Coleman.
“This change could benefit over 1.4 million New Zealanders who live in places where networked community water supplies are not currently fluoridated.
“Water fluoridation has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and other international health authorities as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”
DHBs currently provide expert advice on fluoridation to local authorities.
“Moving the decision-making process from local councils to DHBs is recognition that water fluoridation is a health-related issue,” says Mr Dunne.
“Deciding which water supplies should be fluoridated aligns closely to DHBs’ current responsibilities and expertise. It makes sense for DHBs to make fluoridation decisions for their communities based on local health priorities and by assessing health-related evidence.”
A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year. Members of the public and organisations will have an opportunity to make submissions to the Health Select Committee as it considers the Bill.
Around 2.3 million New Zealanders currently have access to fluoridated water.
Fluoride occurs naturally in water supplies, however New Zealand levels are generally low compared to other countries, meaning additional fluoridation is needed to generate optimum health results.
In 2014 the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and the Royal Society of New Zealand, assisted by a panel of experts, concluded there is compelling evidence that fluoridation of water at the established and recommended levels produces broad benefits for the dental health of New Zealanders.
Fluoridation effectively and safely reduces tooth decay and provides benefits for all age groups. On average, children and adolescents aged under 18 will have a 40 per cent lower lifetime incidence of tooth decay.
In 2013, more than 40 per cent of all five year olds and more than 60 per cent of Maori and Pacific five year olds had already experienced tooth decay.
The 2013/14 NZ Health Survey found that 35,000 children between 1 and 4 years had had a tooth extracted in the last 12 months due to decay, and Maori children were 1.6 more times likely to have a tooth extracted than non-Maori.