Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has made directions under the Health Act to 14 local authorities to add fluoride to some or all of their water supplies. It is the first time this power has been used since the relevant legislation was amended last year to ensure a national approach to fluoridating water.
Local authorities who are directed to fluoridate their water supplies will be invited to apply for funding from a $11.3 million fund for capital projects associated with these works.
Fluoridation is proven to be a safe, affordable and effective method of preventing tooth decay, Dr Bloomfield says.
“Community water fluoridation benefits everyone, but especially children, Māori, Pasifika and our most vulnerable. That’s why it is supported by the Pasifika Dental Association and Te Ao Mārama (the Māori Dental Association).
“Water fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay, along with brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, eating healthy food and avoiding sugary drinks. Fluoride in water acts like a constant repair kit for your teeth.
“The role of fluoride in water has been well examined around the world – including in New Zealand – over the past 60 years. The Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor recently looked at new information about water fluoridation and found there’s no evidence it causes any significant health issues at the fluoride levels used here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Fluoridated water is safe for everyone to drink – including babies and the elderly – and fluoride exists naturally in air, soil, fresh water, sea water, plants and in food,” Dr Bloomfield says.
The 2009 New Zealand oral health survey showed that children and adolescents living in areas with fluoridated water have a 40 percent lower lifetime incidence of tooth decay than those living in areas without.
The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2021 shifted the decision-making authority on community water fluoridation from local authorities to the Director-General of Health on the basis that it is a health-based decision.
“We estimate that adding fluoride to the water supply in these 14 local authority areas will increase the number of New Zealanders receiving fluoridated water from 51% to around 60%. It’s likely that later this year the Director-General of Health will actively consider whether to issue further directions to fluoridate.
The Ministry of Health will track improvements over time in the oral health of communities receiving water fluoridation.