At its next meeting — Wednesday, February 23rd, 2pm — the DHB will take up the issue of fluoride in public drinking water.
David Marshall, Principal Dental Officer, will make a presentation to the Board, which will then — in public session — consider its stance on the matter. Presumably, Dr Marshall will report on the current best evidence on the efficacy, as well as any adverse consequences, of adding fluoride to public drinking water.
Readers might recall that a few years back, Dr Marshall, a long-time Napier dentist (where there is no fluoride in the drinking water) successfully initiated a ban on soft drinks in the region’s health facilities. That suggests he’s rather keen on the healthiness of what we drink.
The DHB review is triggered by the Hastings Council’s apparent readiness to review once again its policy of adding fluoride to Hastings water. One option likely to be tabled is the prospect of a referendum on the issue later this year.
If the Health Board — as the region’s elected, designated health decision-maker — reaffirms that fluoride is a safe and effective additive, one might question on what expertise (or authoritativeness) the Hastings Council might decide otherwise. Which group of elected officials should be the voice of authority here?
Local opponents of fluoride have targeted the Hastings Council, since it actually controls the water supply and adds the stuff. But for its part, the Council (or I should say, most of the previous Councillors) has — so far — deferred to the expertise of the DHB.
DHB Chair Kevin Atkinson is opposed personally to a referendum. He believes this is a matter to be decided on the scientific/medical merits as best evaluated by those elected to make such judgments. In his view, a referendum would require the DHB to commit substantial resources, better used on other public health priorities, to educate the public in a debate that would be driven more by emotion than facts. However, he acknowledges that as his personal view … hence the upcoming Board discussion.
Whatever the DHB outcome, meethinks that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
If the DHB is absolutely convinced that the dental health benefits of fluoride in the drinking water both exist and outweigh any adverse effects, then arguably its policy on the matter should apply to all local jurisdictions in the region, including, say, Napier.
Can’t wait to hear DHB Board member Barbara Arnott (and spouse of dentist Dr David Arnott) debate this one.
But perhaps ‘debate’ isn’t the right term in this case. Because DHB members will only hear from Dr Marshall, who can be expected to marshal the best case advanced by the prevailing health establishment. Opponents of fluoride will observe from the bleacher seats on this day, although they can use existing ‘deputation’ rules to secure presentation time before a later DHB meeting.
At any rate, it’s good to see the issue ventilated in public amongst the DHB board members. That much is a credit to the transparent operating style of Chairman Atkinson. Perhaps interested Hastings and Napier Councillors should attend!
After next Wednesday, I’m not sure how many of his Board colleagues will be thanking Chairman Atkinson for this ‘opportunity’ to make an important public decision in public! But the rest of us should.
P.S. If you want some information to weigh against the official ‘party line’, try this summary, selected in part because it includes this item about NZ research:
“A larger study has been conducted in New Zealand. There, the New Zealand National Health Service plan examines the teeth of every child in key age groups, and have found that the teeth of children in non-fluoridated cities were slightly better than those in the fluoridated cities. (Colquhoun, J. “Child Dental Health Differences in New Zealand”, Community Healthy Services, XI 85-90, 1987).”