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The fluoridation debate

June 16, 2013

I was surprised when Hamilton City Council recently announced its decision to stop fluoridating its water supply. Living in Wellington,  I hadn’t realised that in fact only 23 out of 65 councils in NZ still add fluoride to their water.

Fluoride  hardens tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. However, it is possible to achieve this through the use of toothpastes containing fluoride, or through fluoride tablets. In addition most water supplies have a small amount of naturally occurring fluoride and fluoride is also present in some foods and drinks such as tea.

The problem with not adding it to the water supply is that some children (and adults) who don’t brush regularly  or who have very poor diets, with no fluoride supplements, are undeniably more at risk of tooth decay. Arguably, that this could be solved by greater education, but successful education programmes are not always easy to implement.

On the other hand, the problem with adding it to the water is that it is hard to quantify how much people are ingesting. Too much fluoride can cause mottling of the teeth known as fluoridosis, and is also suspected of causing other health issues such as hypothyroidism or weakened bones. Plus, only a  fraction of our treated water is actually used for drinking, meaning that a lot of expensive fluoride ($195,000 per year in Wellington)  is flushed down the drain.

It is a complex issue – what do others think?

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