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Forum Wants More Water Supplies To Be Fluoridated

Health Minister Annette King has told participants in today's National Water Fluoridation Forum in Wellington she hopes they can develop far-reaching strategies to persuade more communities to fluoridate their water supplies.

The forum is being held to develop recommendations for strategies to protect areas that have water fluoridation, and to promote fluoridation in those areas that do not have it.

Mrs King said: "We know water fluoridation can reduce dental decay in the permanent teeth of children by as much as 50 percent, and at a population level it is estimated that water fluoridation prevents between 58,000 and 267,000 decayed, missing or filled teeth in New Zealand each year. The most important primary preventative strategy for reducing dental decay is to extend the number of reticulated water supplies that are fluoridated at the optimal level.

"I know the issue is controversial in many communities, but it is a controversy I will never look to back away from."

Currently 56 percent of the population lived in communities with reticulated water supplies containing an appropriate level of fluoride, Mrs King said.

"This results in an annual cost saving for dental treatment of up to $15.7 million, but if water fluoridation was extended to reach 75 percent of New Zealanders the estimated savings could be as high as $23.5 million per annum.

"One simple preventative public health care measure, and $23.5 million a year in savings! That is just one reason the Government is so determined to begin tipping the funding balance in health more in favour of preventative health measures."

Mrs King, a former school dental nurse and tutor, told the forum that the main reason she was committed to water fluoridation was to "give our children a healthier future. It is heartbreaking to see a community turn against the fluoridation evidence and put the health of its children at greater risk."

Mrs King said that following the forum the Ministry of Health would present her with an analysis of the forum's recommendations.

For more information, contact John Harvey (04) 471 9305.
Background information from the Ministry of Health

 The lifetime benefit of exposure to water fluoridation is estimated to be the prevention of a total of 2.4 to 12 decayed, missing or filled teeth for the average individual.

 At a population level it is estimated that water fluoridation prevents between 58,000 and 267,000 decayed, missing or filled teeth in New Zealand a year.

 The Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd report for the Ministry of Health, The Cost Effectiveness of Fluoridated Water Supplies in New Zealand, released in February, shows that fluoridated water can be cost effective for a community of 1000 or even lower, not 2500 as was previously thought.

 A review of the efficacy of water fluoridation through surveys conducted from 1979 to 1990 in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States concluded that the current data show a consistently and substantially lower decay prevalence in fluoridated communities.

 Most studies show that water fluoridation provides benefits above and beyond those from other fluoride vehicles alone, for example toothpastes and tablets. Recent information has illustrated that water fluoridation is effective throughout a person's lifespan, as it helps to prevent root caries decay in adults and older people. Therefore, fluoride can be seen to be of benefit to anyone with their natural teeth.

 The risk of dental decay is highest for lower socio-economic groups, who can least afford toothpaste and dental care, and for Mäori. It is also these groups who benefit most from caries prevention due to water fluoridation at optimum levels.

 The Ministry of Health recommends the fluoridation of water supplies at levels between 0.7 and 1.0 mg/litre to promote oral health. There is overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness and safety of water fluoridation in improving the dental health of New Zealanders and in preventing dental decay.

 Participants at the forum today included: Health Minister Annette King, the Ministry of Health, New Zealand Maori Dental Association, New Zealand Dental Association, Medical Officers of Health, District Health Board representatives, dental officers, dental therapists, dental health educators, Health Protection Officers, health promoters, dental surgeons and social scientists.


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