Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Bill puts bite on tooth decay

The Director-General of Health will soon be able to decide whether a community drinking water supply should be fluoridated, after the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill was passed by Parliament.

Associate Health Minister, Ayesha Verrall says the move will ensure a nationally consistent approach to community water fluoridation based on its well-established health benefits.

“Tooth decay is a common problem in New Zealand but is largely preventable. In 2019, 6270 children under 14 years old had to have operations or other hospital treatments because of tooth decay or associated infections. Children who are still in nappies are having their teeth removed while under anaesthetic,” she said.

“Fluoridating our drinking water is widely recognised as one of the most important measures to improve oral health, because it acts like a constant repair kit – fixing the effect of acids that cause decay.”

Increasing fluoridation coverage will particularly benefit groups with high rates of preventable tooth decay, including Māori and those living in deprived communities, the Minister said.

“Community water fluoridation is effective, safe and affordable. It is a scientifically proven public health measure that will improve the oral health of tens of thousands of New Zealanders.”

“I’m pleased to see this pass into law – the evidence has supported the use of fluoridation since the 1950s,” Dr Verrall said.

Currently 2.3 million people, just under half of New Zealand’s population, have access to fluoridated drinking water.

When making decisions from next year on whether to fluoridate water supplies, the Director-General of Health will take into account scientific evidence, cost-effectiveness, and local oral health outcomes. Local authorities will be given the opportunity to provide information on costs and compliance dates before decisions are finalised.

Private water supplies will not be required to be fluoridated.

Local authorities and water suppliers will still be responsible for providing safe drinking water to their communities, and still need to meet water safety regulations, the Minister said.
 

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