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The Great Fluoridation Debate Again!

To Fluoridate or not is an increasingly Vexious Issue

Fluoridation always causes friction in the community as recently observed in Kapiti. Greater Wellington Regional Council manages the region's water supply (with the exception of kapiti) so it is something we need to think about.

Kapiti's experience

The Annual Plan process for the Kapiti Coast District Council has been a challenging time because it has been dominated by a group opposed to the fluoridation of the public water supply. This is also a matter for Greater Wellington – The Regional Council which manages the water supply for Wellington and the Hutt.

Is it safe or not?

Is fluoride safe? Does it protect our children’s teeth? Should we add it to the public water supply? Is it mass medication if we do? Are we doing harm? Should people choose themselves whether they give it to their children? Is it the same as iodine in salt? If we have it in the centre of the district why don’t we have it everywhere? Why should it be local governments’ problem and not central government?

These were some of the questions councillors grappled with when confronting a very determined anti-fluoridation lobby during our annual plan process this month.

At the moment Waikanae, Paraparaumu and Raumati have fluoridation added to the public water supply. Otaki and Paekakariki do not.

The Kapiti Coast is not alone in coming to the attention of the anti-fluoridation activists.  Councils to the north have voted to stop adding fluoride to the water supply after campaigns against it. It has always been an emotive issue and has now, once again, come before the public in a much more aggressive and emotive way.

Hearing of evidence

Following representation by this group, council gave notice through the annual plan process of money to be rated to hold a referendum on the subject.  We received submissions requesting council stop adding fluoride but there were no submissions about whether or not we should hold a referendum. We also heard evidence from the Ministry of Health, other scientists and health professional giving evidence of the benefits of fluoride.

The debate was highly charged as some councillors had been subjected to some diverse tactics by those opposed, where affidavits were served and notices of nuisance were delivered. There is an emotive argument, captured by a myriad of internet articles which variously describe the practice as mass medication, poisoning, of harmful effects in the long term saying there is no evidence that the practice will ‘do no harm’.

Conversely, the opposing side, dentists, doctors, scientist and the Ministry of Health along with Regional Public Health all cited articles and research describing with evidence the benefits of protection of children’s teeth.

The Decision

Eventually Council agreed to continue to fluoridate the water and not to hold a referendum. At my suggestion we also agreed to refer the matter to the health select committee with the request that it inquire into the positive or negative effects of fluoride. We also agreed, on my suggestion, to refer the matter to the national ethics committee asking them to confirm whether or not fluoride is a medicine under the Medicine’s Act and whether adding it the public water supply was an ethical act.

This, hopefully, will take the emotion out of the debate and focus it on scientific evidence. Even so I think this is a matter for a national, and not local, government.  Will they be brave enough to take up the challenge?

The debate will continue to come to our doors.

We should be prepared for it.