Queensland doctors are calling on the state government to mandate fluoride in all council water supplies, saying a decision by more than a third of the state’s councils to opt out of the practice six years ago is resulting in extensive tooth decay.
Water fluoridation in Queensland was mandated by the Bligh state government in 2008 but under premier Campbell Newman the legislation was amended in 2012 so the state no longer paid councils to implement fluoridation and decision-making responsibility was handed back to local government.
Today only 22 of the state’s 77 councils add fluoride to their water.
AMA Queensland President Dilip Dhupelia says dentists in regional areas including Cairns, Rockhampton and Bundaberg are now performing multiple tooth extractions on elderly people and children are being hospitalised for dental conditions.
Oral health services data also shows that 43 per cent of children aged 5-6 and 55 per cent in the 5-14 age group had experienced decay. The figure stood at 70 per cent for Indigenous children, Dr Dhupelia said.
“These councils are seemingly unwilling to accept the extensive body of evidence proving the health benefits and safety of fluoride and so we are calling on the state government to rectify the problem urgently by mandating fluoride in all drinking water supplies,” he said in a statement.
The AMA estimates that the reintroduction of water fluoridation would only cost between 60 cents and $1 per person, amounting to an estimated cost of $19,500-$32,500 to a council servicing a population of around 35,500.
“However we recognise that some local councils may require greater assistance to deliver fluoride to their communities,” it says in its 2019 Budget Submission.
“For this reason, we also call on the Queensland Government to ensure that funding is made available in this year’s Budget to assist those councils who may require assistance in re-establishing water fluoridation in their local water supplies.”
A spokesman for Queensland heath did not directly address questions about whether the government would consider reversing the decision to make fluoride optional, but “local governments are encouraged to supply their communities with fluoridated water”.
Seventy-two per cent of Queenslanders were receiving fluoridated water, he said.
Fluoridation: a health or water managment issue?
A spokesman for LGAQ said the AMA’s cost estimate didn’t take into account capital costs.
He said LGAQ’s position remained that it should be up to each council to make a decision about whether or not to add fluoride to water supplies, in consultation with their local communities.
While some communities supported fluoridation, others were opposed to it, he told Government News.
“Local government believes the decision to add or remove fluoride from public water supplies should be made by individual local governments,” he said.
He said adding fluoride and maintaining equipment meant additional costs to councils and oral health was a matter for the state, not local government.
“We don’t see any movement from the government in going back to compulsory fluoride but if there was there’s a cost to councils.
“The state government should fully fund local government for the capital and recurrent costs of the fluoridation of public water supplies as oral health is a state government responsibility and it is the financial beneficiary of improved oral health.”
The AMAQ budget submission also calls for $10 million for local councils to build extra bikeways, lighting on walking paths and public exercise equipment.
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