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Higher Profile Planned for Fluoride Benefits

Higher Profile Planned for Fluoride Benefits

A new national coordination service to raise the awareness of the benefits of fluoridated water without them will be set up next year, the Ministry of Health said today.

Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga signalled the announcement at the second national forum on water fluoridation. It was one of the key recommendations from the same forum last year.

He says the contract for the new service is expected to be finalised in January.

"It reflects the need for communities and the councils that represent them to have access to timely and accurate information about public health considerations when making decisions about water fluoridation. Local authorities are responsible under both the Health Act and the Local Government Act to provide for the health and well being of the public."

Dr Tukuitonga says the national coordination service will have a role in ensuring good access to information for local councils and communities about the benefits to everyone's teeth from fluoridated water.

He says the service will be pivotal in persuading more communities to fluoridate their water supplies. Currently 56% of New Zealanders have access to fluoridated water.

"The World Health Organisation recommends water fluoridation as the best way to improve oral health, major international studies highlight the benefits, and the extensive and ongoing research shows there are no significant adverse health effects from fluoridation."

"The benefits of fluoridating water at this level are seen especially in children and those in lower socioeconomic groups. The community as a whole wins - for example, a report on Preventive Dental Strategies for Older Populations noted that fluoride is the most important preventive measure available against decay for this group."

Strung together, the ribbon of decayed, missing or filled teeth that could be prevented each year with full fluoridation in New Zealand would stretch across five rugby fields.

Dr Tukuitonga says the challenge for health professionals is to ensure that this sort of evidence, which is compelling to those working in health, is presented just as convincingly to everyone else in the community.

"We know, from the recent experience in Whangarei where an opinion poll voted against introducing fluoride that we have our work cut out for us."

He says that's despite a new government subsidy funding half the cost of putting in fluoridation equipment. Applications for funding will be available from next month. Dr Tukuitonga says there is no doubt that fluoridation is the best public health measure to prevent tooth decay, but he says its also important to stress the need for a healthy diet, and to brush teeth with toothpaste regularly in order to maintain healthy teeth. "Getting fluoride from other sources such as toothpaste is important to prevent tooth decay. And of course, a balanced diet that's low in sugar benefits more than just your oral health," he said.

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