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Public Policy & Practice Fails Over Debtal Health

Public Policy & Practice Fails to Address Dental Health Problems

Press Release - 19 April 2006

Recent reports have once again highlighted the abject failure of water fluoridation in preventing tooth decay. Child dental health is declining in fluoridated Auckland and Wellington as authorities fail to address the real causes of decay.

Fluoride Action Network NZ (FANNZ) supports the call for better funding of dental health services, as publicly voiced by health officials at Auckland and Wellington DHBs this month.

“It is about time the Ministry of Health admitted that dental decay is caused by excess sugar in the diet and poor oral hygiene habits” says spokesperson Caren McConnell. “It has been proven that fluoride can only benefit teeth when applied directly, not when it is ingested.”

The recently-released, comprehensive US National Research Council report found that even ‘low’ levels of fluoride exposure can cause mottling, staining and pitting of tooth enamel and makes teeth - and bones - more brittle. Further research on a plethora of health disorders has been recommended before the safe limit of fluoride in water can be established.

“Unfortunately, its not just fluoride toxicity that the MoH have been overlooking – health professionals are being kept in the dark about xylitol too.”

Xylitol* is a naturally-occurring carbohydrate compound that was ‘discovered’ in Finland during WWII (when sugar was scarce). It has been the subject of medical and nutritional research in Europe ever since, but is now recognized for its health benefits internationally.

Research published this year in dental journals - Dental Research, Caries Research and the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) - illustrate how ‘mainstream’ the awareness of xylitol has become.

Xylitol is anti-cariogenic (ie prevents tooth decay), inhibits plaque and helps remineralise damaged tooth enamel.

Dr. Peter Milgrom, lead author of the study published in JADA, and director of a government-sponsored Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities says: "The elegance of the application of xylitol is its simplicity and safety for use by individuals and in public health programs. Given the history of previous research worldwide and our own new findings in the US, xylitol is underused as a valuable dental public health tool."

Programmes in schools in Europe and America, where children were given xylitol chewing-gums or tablets after lunch, have been successful in improving oral health.

“Yet searching for Xylitol on the MoH website fails to reveal any of this research or advice. Instead, the MoH seems fixated with promoting the myth that adding fluoride compounds to the water supply infers a magic cure-all for dental disease. Then they throw good public money into protecting their bad policy”, says Ms McConnell.

Money that would be better spent protecting the nation’s dental health.

* Xylitol is found in a range of plants including corn and berry-fruit, and is also a trace component of breastmilk. Commercially, it is extracted from both birch bark and rice husks, and looks and tastes like common sugar (sucrose).

In general health terms it is used as a food ingredient in place of sugar because of its lower calorie content and very low glycemic-index. A study published in 2000 in the journal Vaccine showed that xylitol can even help prevent glue ear.


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