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ADA NSW President's pro-fluoride letter published in Oberon Review

Published in the Oberon Review Saturday, 10 February:

As the President of the Australian Dental Association NSW, I can say that no dentist likes having to extract a child’s decayed teeth. But in communities without fluoridated water, like Oberon, it can be a daily part of practice.

Research shows rates of tooth decay are much lower in areas with water fluoridation, with children aged five and six in fluoridated parts of NSW having almost half the number of decayed, missing and filled teeth as those without fluoridation.

With good prevention, tooth decay can be avoided. But unfortunately not every member of the community has access to timely dental treatment, or can maintain good dental hygiene. Not everyone can afford a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Not every child has a parent at home who ensures they brush their teeth.

The highest rates of tooth decay are experienced by children, the elderly, people living in rural and remote areas, families on lower incomes and Indigenous Australians. That’s why water fluoridation is the most effective, equitable way of preventing dental decay. It benefits everyone – regardless of their age, financial situation or how often they can visit the dentist. And it especially helps the disadvantaged.

Water fluoridation began in Australia more than 60 years ago and is supported by more than 150 scientific, health, professional and government organisations here and overseas, including the Australian Dental Association, the Australian Medical Association and the World Health Organisation.

Fluoride is not medication. It is a naturally-occurring element found in soil, rocks and groundwater. It’s found in seafood. It’s found in tea. And when you adjust the levels of fluoride in drinking water, it makes teeth more resistant to decay and helps repair early tooth decay before a cavity forms.

Only a small amount of fluoride is needed to protect against tooth decay: one part per million, or one milligram per litre. At these low levels, it has no adverse health effects – a fact reaffirmed just last year by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the expert body responsible for developing health advice for the Australian community, health professionals and governments. Its latest report on fluoridation and human health concluded: “There is no reliable evidence of an association between community water fluoridation at current Australian levels and any health problems.”

Fluoridation also saves money, with recent Australian studies showing that for every $1 spent on fluoridation, $7 to $18 is saved in treatment costs.

Research tells us that childhood tooth decay leads to a higher risk of oral health problems in later life.

Ratepayers bear the individual costs of tooth decay. But as taxpayers, through the health system, we all foot the bill for this preventable disease. Dental conditions are the nation’s third-leading cause of potentially preventable hospitalisations, with more than 16,000 admissions each year in NSW alone for dental problems that could have been avoided.

The people of Oberon are among the seven per cent of NSW residents who are missing out on the oral health benefits fluoridation provides.

It is no coincidence that Queensland, which has the lowest rates of fluoridation in Australia, is the state with the highest rates of childhood tooth decay.

You might ask why dentists support water fluoridation – after all, improved oral health means less work for our profession. It’s because dentists know that fluoride offers the best protection against tooth decay, and water fluoridation is the best way to protect the whole community. It’s because, as health professionals, our practice is evidence-based – and all the reliable scientific evidence shows that fluoridation in Australia is safe, and effective in reducing tooth decay.

Dr Neil Peppitt, President, Australian Dental Association NSW

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