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ADA NSW is continuing to advocate against moves by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to potentially remove fluoride from local water supplies

17 February 2020
News Corp

ADA NSW is continuing to advocate against moves by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to potentially remove fluoride from local water supplies, impacting the oral health of about 80,000 local residents. See this story from News Corp featuring President Dr Kathleen Matthews. 

Councillors on the NSW mid-north coast are pushing for a public vote to remove fluoride from the public water supply. But dental experts and one council member have hit back, arguing community members should not be bombarded by “populist and wildly subjective opinions”.

The Port Macquarie-Hastings Council plans to launch a community poll later this year, alongside the local election, where residents can vote on whether or not fluoride should be filtered out of the drinking water.

However, councillor Rob Turner is proposing instead of the poll, councillors discuss other less costly options for obtaining feedback from the community, providing they have been educated on the topic. Mr Turner, who is a pharmacist, said there was plenty of evidence to support fluoridation of water, and it was not council’s role to “undermine” NSW Health.

Even if the council does push forward with the community poll, which would cost upwards of $60,000 in taxpayer dollars, fluoride is compulsory.

“Under Section 6B of the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957, a water utility may not cease fluoridation unless the direction is revoked by NSW Health,” the health department said in a statement. A water utility ceasing fluoridation without the direction being revoked is guilty of an offence against this Act.”

Any poll would likely “create false expectations in the community” around the council’s ability to discontinue adding fluoride to the water supply, Mr Turner said. He argued a poll would also exclude key members of the community, including its youth or those who were not on the electoral roll, and the community would need to be given facts and evidence-based information first.

“The sole purpose of council elections is to elect a mayor and councillors. It is far better for the community and the local media to focus on that instead of being bombarded by populist and wildly subjective opinions on what is a scientific and evidence-based public health initiative,” he said.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council mayor Peta Pinson said last year it was not about removing fluoride but simply allowing the community to have its say. Ms Pinson has been contacted for comment.

An Australian Dental Association NSW (ADA NSW) spokesman said just one council, the Balranald Shire, had previously petitioned to have fluoride removed but the move was rejected by the state’s health authorities. Bega and Oberon councils held similar community polls asking the question but it was not supported by local residents, the spokesman said.

“Water fluoridation is a safe, effective and equitable means of preventing dental decay in children, adolescents and adults at a community level,” ADA NSW president Dr Kathleen Matthews said.

“Numerous other studies have also illustrated the importance of fluoride in maintaining oral health.” She is pushing for the council to drop its “baseless” objection to fluoridation and shift its focus to improving the oral health of community members.

“Research further underlines why Port Macquarie-Hastings Council should drop its baseless objection to fluoridation in the local water supply and instead concentrate on working with organisations such as ADA NSW to improve the oral health of its residents of all ages,” she said. “Poor dental health can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering.”

The National Child Oral Health Study suggests a lack of fluoride in the water is a major cause of tooth decay in young children. Water fluoridation was introduced in the local government area nine years ago after the council referred the decision to the state government. There are more than 5000 adult residents waiting for dental treatment, according to the latest stats from NSW Health.

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