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Christchurch parents in uni' survey prefer fluoridation

More than half of Christchurch parents in university survey preferred fluoridation

June 29, 2014

Christchurch four year-olds have on average 95 percent more decay in their baby teeth than children from Wellington of the same age, a University of Canterbury health sciences postgraduate researcher has found.

Arthi Veerasamy says compared to all major cities in New Zealand, Christchurch is the only major city without water fluoridation. Christchurch nine year olds have on average 80 percent more decay in their permanent teeth than Wellington nine year olds.

Like other parts of the world, water fluoridation is a controversial subject in New Zealand and the issue has been a heated debate recently in Hamilton. Water fluoridation is endorsed by the Ministry of Health but rejected by some communities and organisations such as the Fluoride Action Network.

Owing to the pressure from anti-fluoridation campaigners, fluoridation was stopped in some areas Canterbury region, including Ashburton in 2002 and Timaru in 1985. A dental health survey in October 2000 showed 60 percent of Christchurch people did not support water fluoridation.

Health literacy is now recognised as an important component in preventing diseases. Parents’ understanding of dental issues is very important to prevent decay in pre-schoolers, Veerasamy says.

No data exists regarding oral health literacy among New Zealand parents, creating a gap in the research and knowledge base that his study addressed. Veerasamy’s research, supervised by Associate Professor Ray Kirk, says the aim of his study was to identify the existing level of oral health literacy among New Zealand parents and to investigate the relationship between parents' attitude towards water fluoridation and their oral health literacy.

Veerasamy surveyed more than 100 parents to find the level of oral health literacy of parents of pre-school aged children regarding their child's oral health. Thirty-eight percent of participants had poor oral health literacy regarding their child's oral health. Her study found oral health literacy to be low even among parents working in the education sector.

The results also indicated that there were associations present between parents' oral health literacy and socio-demographic variables such as ethnicity, education and family income. Nearly half of the parents opted for water fluoridation in Christchurch. A strong association between parents' oral health literacy and their attitude towards water fluoridation was identified.

``Many past studies have supported the importance of parental health literacy in a child's health outcome. The development of the permanent first molar is initiated in the fourth month of intra-uterine life and teeth need to last for the child's lifetime,’’ Veerasamy says.

``The intervention to prevent oral diseases should be started even before the birth of the child making it parents’ responsibility to protect the child's teeth. The parents are responsible for preventing decay and caring for children's oral health in the pre-adolescent period; so parents should have good knowledge about preventing early childhood caries and protecting the child's oral health system,’’ Veerasamy says.


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