Fluoride Finishes

COVER STORY | Flouride Finishes
Council Shows
Some Teeth
- 40 years of Fluoridation Finishes
Before this month is over, New Plymouth
residents will be drinking non-fluoridated
water for the first time in over forty years.
Words Irena Brooks Photo Rob Tucker
On October 13th, the New Plymouth District Council
decided to stop fluoridating the water supply for the
New Plymouth area.
The decision has caused a national furore and claims
from members of the public that the NPDC has acted
irresponsibly. The chief dental officer for the Ministry
of Health, Dr Robyn Haisman-Welsh described it as
“deeply disappointing” while Taranaki DHB dental
clinician leader, David Antunovic stated in The Daily
News that “…I think that sometimes democracy is
acknowledged stupidity.”
Meanwhile, the Fluoride Action Network of New
Zealand congratulated the New Plymouth District
Council “for its scientifically and ethically sound
decision to end fluoridation, and deploy the savings
to actually help those with poor dental health.”
“Since it is now accepted that the primary benefit (of
fluoride) is topical it does not make sense to
continue fluoridation,” says Ms Byrne, spokesperson
for FANNZ. “New Plymouth councillors cannot be
sidelined as the looney fringe or be accused of not
being informed. They are most probably the most
informed council in the country.”
The historic decision came after a two-day tribunal
style hearing at the end of September, when
councillors considered 437 written submissions and
heard from 45 submitters.
Nearly 90% of submissions (386) called for council
to cease water fluoridation, and came from dentists,
doctors, a lawyer, Ruapehu District Councillor Jeni
Kydd, and Colleen Tuuta from the Taranaki District
Health Board, while 46 submissions were for
maintain the status quo; 2) to remove fluoride from
all the district’s water and 3) to fluoridate all the
district’s water.
The water supply services communities from Omata
in the west to Urenui in the east, and includes New
Plymouth, Bell Block, Waitara, Motunui and parts of
Tikorangi. The Inglewood, Oakura and Okato water
supplies are already non-fluoridated.
Cr Pauline Lockett did not take part due to her role
on the Taranaki District Health Board (which voted
for water fluoridation) and Cr MacFarlane was
overseas, so a total of 12 councillors and the mayor
took part.
No new hydro-fluorosilicic acid stock will be added
to the New Plymouth water supply from the day of
the decision – 13th October. The existing supply will
be depleted through the reticulation, and is
expected to run out by the end of November
(depending on water demand).
Councillor Bublitz
“The budget that is put aside for buying hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFA) will instead go towards an
education campaign on dental hygiene, to be
delivered in cooperation with relevant community
agencies,” says Mayor Harry Duynhoven.
moved Recommendation 1 that the staus quo be
maintained, with New
Plymouth and Waitara water
continuing to be fluoridated,
while Oakura and Inglewood
were not.
But ninety minutes later, it was unanimously agreed
that fluoridation of all New Plymouth district water
be ceased immediately.
“These hearings have been some of the most intense
“Council staff will investigate what form that
education campaign will take and report on it to the hearings of my 27 years on council,” Cr Bublitz
began. “But science will never give a definite answer
Council for consideration.”
– that is the nature of science,” he pointed out.
Anyone observing the two day tribunal on
fluoridation on 29 and 30 September would
probably not have been able to pick an outcome.
Two weeks later, the debate began with three
recommendations in front of councillors: 1) to
“We already put an enormous amount of chemicals in
our water to make it healthy. Our ethical role is to
ensure the best health for the most people of this
community. I cannot be part of a decision that goes
the reverse. The critical point of all this is that it
(fluoride) has been in the water for 40 years and
there haven’t been any problems.”
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Cr Maurice Betts was next to speak,
supporting the motion to maintain the status quo.
“I can find no compelling evidence that it does harm.”
Then Shaun Biesiek rose to speak, puzzled as to
why, if the previous two speakers were in favour of
fluoridation, they would vote to maintain the status quo.
“I would have thought we would have gone for 2
(Recommendation B2 – cease fluoridation) or 3
(Recommendation B3 – fluoridate all NP district
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He also questioned Cr Bublitz’s assertion that if science
wasn’t a definite, then why were we continuing to put a
substance into our water that we don’t know if it works
or not?
“Yes we do put chemicals in our water to make it healthy
– except one. The one we’re debating.
“Fluoride is a topical application – both sides agree to
“No-one from the Health Board 100% - or even 90% convinced me. So therefore there’s doubt. As soon as
there’s doubt, in my mind, of putting a substance in, I
would not want to sit down with my grandchildren and
say ‘sorry, I made the wrong decision because I wasn’t
convinced either way’.
“I’d like to foreshadow a move to Recommendation 2 – to
cease fluoride.”
Deputy Mayor, Alex Matheson, who seconded Cr
Bublitz’s motion, was the next to speak.
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“I’m confused at my colleagues who have spoken for
it, in moving (Recommendation) one – that’s partial
fluoridation. We’ve sat here and listened to why
“I’m living proof of the evidence that no fluoridation,
fluoridation should stay. Surely the discussion really
I guess, is the effects of bad teeth. My children, have
is, ceasing, or doing the whole district? Partial
been subjected to fluoridated water and the caries
fluoridation … just doesn’t make sense to me, so
in their teeth are minimal.”
from that point on, any argument from them, I can’t
Councillor Sherrill take seriously.
George started her speech
“I consider myself a conservative person – I’ve always
with a thank you.
had that sense that the powers-that-be are right. It
was ingrained. Doctor knows best. I came into this
“I won’t be supporting the
debate thinking the same thing, but left with doubt.
motion and I want to thank
One of the first things I did when I got home,
Cr Biesiek for acknowledging
because we have young children, was to check the
that the Ministry of Health
toothpaste - make sure they’re not swallowing it …
plays a big part in this,
because doubt was planted in my mind, as to
because I remember the days when the MOH
whether what was being done was actually
decided that treating brain disorders with electric
completely safe.”
shock therapy was the only way to go, when
spraying things with 245T was the safe and
Maree Pearce
effective way of looking after our planet, and we
agreed with fluoridation, but
see the results of that now.
couldn’t support the motion,
as she wanted to see
“What swayed it for me was … the whole thing
everybody in the district
comes down to education. You show me a kid
receiving fluoride.
who runs around with a Pump bottle, in Waitara,
as opposed to a Coke bottle.
When Cr GirlingTreat the source. Not by
Butcher took the floor,
forcing the rest of the
he described the turmoil he
community to a drug we
endured as he weighed the
know is not good for our
evidence from both sides.
“I have lain awake at nights
Cr Judd didn’t agree with
chasing this thing round in
the motion either.
my brain and trying to distil it
“We are damned if we do, and boy oh boy, we are
damned if we don’t.
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down to it’s very essence.
“The best way to apply fluoride to teeth is through
fluoridated toothpaste, which requires the
intervention of parents.
“Unfortunately, there’s a section of the population
who don’t even feed their kids very well, let alone
teach them to clean their teeth. And even if they did,
it probably wouldn’t do much because their diets
are so chaotic they’re going to develop tooth
decay anyway.
“Transposed against that, we have a society that is
much more cautious and careful about what it
consumes. I know a lot (of people) who will
carefully read the labels on the packages and
bottles they buy, to find out whether it has certain
substances that they want to avoid. I think fluoride
enters that category.
“We, as a local authority, are asking some people –
and I suspect it’s quite a large number of people –
to take a substance they would normally avoid as
much as they can. And I wonder if we’re the right
body to even be making that decision. It surely
should be a central government policy that decides
whether the country’s water supplies will be
fluoridated or not.
“One of the things I felt was lacking was any
comprehensive survey that proved categorically
that two identical communities, one fluoridated
and one not – the benefits of fluoridation as against
the other.
“We actually heard from both sides that modern diet
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with the advent of coke and soft drinks and sports
drinks, is causing a resurgence in dental problems
– fluoridated or not.
“So, In my troubled state I reached the conclusion it
was wrong to self-medicate our community, that it
is an ethical consideration, that there has not really
been enough evidence produced for or against the
harm that might be caused by this, but it’s
something that people should be able to make an
individual decision about.
the Murder House. I remember a dentist saying to
me when I was a teenager that I had some of the
worst teeth that he’d seen. One visit I was given 14
“So I’ve grown up in that background and I’ve come
into this tribunal hearing I guess with that …
memory …and I believe that fluoride certainly has
made a difference at that time in the 60s, 70s and
80s. I don’t know whether it’s the case now though.
wouldn’t believe. There’s no evidence to say that the
people living in non-fluoridated areas of our district
have appalling teeth compared to those living in a
fluoridated area.
“It wasn’t compelling enough for me from the
pro-fluoride side.
“In my professional career as an MC and a speaker
and a joke-teller, I’ve lived by the mantra ‘if in doubt,
leave it out’. I live by that because at times I haven’t
always followed that through – I’ve been in doubt
and said the odd thing that perhaps I shouldn’t
have. On all of those occasions it’s come back to
bite me somewhere fluoride wouldn’t normally
be applied.
“I went home and looked at my three children’s teeth
– well two children’s teeth, and I’ve just been to
“Probably, the most effective thing we can do, is
Australia to check on my third child’s teeth. They’re
wage an education campaign, that highlights these
facts to the community, that sugar is the curse when all born and raised in New Plymouth.
it comes to dental care, encourage people to use a
“They have quite clear fluorosis on their teeth. They
fluoridated toothpaste and cease to fluoridate our
“I am in doubt, I’m not sure that fluoride in our water
have good teeth … but they have very clear
water supply.”
supply is the way to go.”
fluorosis. So that concerned me. And it concerned
me that if that appears on your teeth, are we sure
He then indicated he couldn’t support the motion,
Cr Dodunski then spoke,
there is not damage being done elsewhere?
and added he would like to add a clause to
saying she was one of the
Cr Biesiek’s foreshadowed motion, to utilise the
councillors who voted at the
“A lot of the evidence that was presented I was quite
money currently spent on water fluoridation, to
last fluoridation tribunal in
sceptical about. I went back last night and watched
educate those most at risk of poor dental health
2000, when the council
that video of Dr Paul Connett, and it was compelling.
in our society.
almost unanimously agreed
The evidence that he brought out, particularly with
to maintain the status quo.
the change of mind of people like Dr John
Cr Quinney also offered
Colquhoun (see side-bar) really struck home to me.
an insight into a councillor’s
“I’m not prepared to support
That here we have medical professionals, dental
lot by revealing the
the motion that’s before us, because this is what
professionals, that admitted maybe they’d got it
trepidation he felt coming
we did last time and I’m not prepared to do this
wrong, that they had concern. I think a lot has
into the debate.
half-and-half - I really think it’s time for a decision.
changed in the last 40 years.
“I grew up in non-fluoridated
“What has influenced me, as I’ve looked and listened
Christchurch … and have the “If there was an issue with fluoridation and it’s
and read and watched is the thing that Cr Quinney
benefit, as opposed to non-fluoridation, we’d have
teeth to prove it. I lived in
has raised. The fact that there were opportunities
the dental industry setting up in Inglewood like you
dread of being called up to
raised over the last few years, in this very district, to
have the proof that would have swayed this council.
We had the situation where Waitara was
unfluoridated, and then became fluoridated, and yet
we had no studies, no real proof from anybody …
so for me that was a golden opportunity wasted.”
down the road, and their teeth are lovely.
“The evidence is not 100% conclusive in my view.
There is doubt. If in doubt, err to the side of safety
- always – and you’ll get through. I’ve lived by that
golden rule and I guess those of you that do know
me a bit and know my background, I’m still here
today, because of that golden rule.”
end of the day when a high profile person (Allison
Roe) was invited, or invited herself … to come in
and sum up … all those things caused me to have a
lot of angst and I felt that we were sort of being
manipulated. So there’s a whole lot of feeling
outside the actual issue…
“We heard a lot about the weight of evidence. But
“I still believe that the decision that we made … last
some of the points that were important to me that
time, was the right decision, I support Cr Bublitz and
perhaps I hadn’t considered, at the last sitting, I was
“I’ll be supporting Cr Biesiek’s motion.”
the motion that he’s proposed. I believe it’s the right
taken by the young mums, with their young babies,
thing to do. I’m prepared to go with something
through no fault of their own, were on bottle
Cr Tamati began his
we’ve been supporting for forty years.”
feeding. How do you adjust and take care of the
speech by saying how much
amount of water that goes in, how can you afford
he didn’t like people chanting
Last to speak was Mayor
to go somewhere and get water that hasn’t got
and waving placards when
fluoride in, to take the safety of those young babies
he arrived at the council
Harry Duynhoven.
into consideration?
“I’m going to speak on this,
“For me it was about the young children and after all
“You tend to get a little bit
even though I don’t need to,
the reading, all the studying, I didn’t have the same
defensive. When I get into
simply because I think people
confidence I had before, that we were actually
situations like that, I get a bit anti – I close off.
will want to know what my
correct in what we were doing. So for me, this time
I had to be a bit careful to come into the room
views are. I’ve listened with a
around, I have changed my opinion, I support the
with an open mind. I was part of the last debate
great deal of interest right
foreshadowed motion by Cr Biesiek, I would like to
that we had.
through, I’ve read an enormous amount of paper on
see the fluoridation taken out of the water supply,
this issue, including from people who came and
“What was interesting for me was the amount of
and I do that because I think it then allows us all to
spoke to us for ten minutes and gave us fifty pages
people that did come from out of town.
have freedom of choice.”
of closely typed stuff from the internet, purporting
to be science.
“I guess I’m quite a simple person in a lot of ways,
Cr John McLeod
and I listen to people who have been working in the
added some other viewpoints.
“There are all sorts of variables and issues that make
field for a long, long time, and I probably take more
it difficult to get a comparison between say
“In my travels throughout the
particular notice of those sort of people. I felt the
fluoridated Waitara and non-fluoridated Oakura.
world, I’ve been in contact
process we went through was stage-managed to a
with many native peoples,
large degree and I also had some issues with some “The issue then is, does fluoride do harm, because
who don’t have a local dairy
submitters ambushing others, jumping in and at the
clearly it has had a positive effect on teeth over that
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time. And that’s what has been brought to us in
spades by those opposing fluoride … out of the
417 submissions, how many were genuinely from
people in New Plymouth district? The vast majority
were generated from outside and well-meaning
people here grabbed big chunks of them and put
them in as their submission.
Examples of Fluorosis
“I believe that the status
quo has responded … to
the wishes of the people
of Oakura, Okato and
Inglewood, who in polling
have said, no, they don’t
want fluoride.
very mild
“And where’s the evidence of actual harm? Yes,
fluorosis on the teeth, yes, it’s slightly disfiguring, but
is it actually harmful? Does it show, as is claimed,
vast build-ups of cancers and bone disease …
arthritis and so on? It may do. But where is the
evidence locally that shows over the last forty years,
that fluoride has been responsible for that in the
people of New Plymouth?
In the 1960s and 70s, John
Colquhoun was the principal
dental officer for Auckland.
Both as a dental officer and a city
councillor, he enthusiastically and
successfully promoted fluoridation
throughout New Zealand.
In 1980, he was sent on a four-month world tour to
investigate tooth decay on several continents. He
expected to bring back evidence, once and for all,
that fluoridation worked.
Instead, dental researchers told Colquhoun in
private that they were not finding the difference in
tooth decay between fluoridated and nonfluoridated communities that they had expected; in
fact they were finding very little difference at all.
“I am in favour of Cr Bublitz’s resolution.”
The recommendation to maintain the staus quo
was then put to the vote, with Crs Betts, Bublitz,
Matheson and Tamati in favour, along with
Mayor Harry.
When Colquhoun returned to New Zealand, he
looked at the complete record of tooth decay in the
country. He found no difference in tooth decay
between the fluoridated and non-fluoridated cities.
If anything, the teeth were slightly better in the
non-fluoridated communities.
The other eight councillors were against, so the
motion was lost and Cr Biesiek put forward his
motion that Recommnedation B2 be adopted,
along with the clause about using the current
funding for fluoridation to be put towards an
education programme.
The council voted unanimously for Rec B2.
Who Was John Colquhoun?
The full debate can be viewed on: newplymouth.com
He then reversed his position and opposed the
practice in any scientific way he could. Colquhoun
wrote up his findings in several published papers,
obtained a PhD and argued that New Zealand’s
dental education programme was superior to water
fluoridation to reduce tooth decay. ••