There's a chance Port Macquarie residents could have their say on whether they would like council to continue to add fluoride to the water supply or otherwise. This is a three part series created to help the community make an informed decision, if the poll goes ahead.
A Port Macquarie dentist said major decisions such as whether to have a poll on water fluoridation should be made by people with scientific research and not anecdotal stories.
Bruce Coleman has been practicing dentistry for 40 years. He said before the introduction of water fluoridation there were 60 per cent of people over 60-years-old having full dentures.
Today, Dr Coleman said there are thousands of 18 to 50-year-olds who have no fillings at all.
Dr Coleman said there are multiple benefits from having water fluoridation and there are no proven downsides which have been identified by the experts.
There is no need for a poll, Dr Coleman said, as council takes direction from NSW Health.
He said NSW Health has put large amounts of funding into researching fluoride to ensure it's safe for the whole community.
Dr Coleman said if water fluoridation was taken away, it would have devastating consequences, particularly for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who have higher rates of tooth decay.
Australian Dental Association NSW president Dr Kathleen Matthews said with any health issue, it's vital the community is guided by evidence-based research and the experts, rather than opinions.
Removing fluoride from water supplies, Dr Matthews said, could mean the most vulnerable people in Port Macquarie will have increased rates of tooth decay.
"Good health starts with what you put in your mouth - we need to care for our teeth," she said.
"The overwhelming expert evidence shows fluoride helps us do that."
There is extensive data, Dr Matthews said showing Australians of all ages benefit from access to fluoridated drinking water.
"Fluoride benefits children, adults and the elderly," she said.
"It helps prevent tooth decay in everyone who drinks it, even if they don't have access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or appropriate dental care.
"It can help ensure all members of our community, including the vulnerable and those less well-off, have positive oral health outcomes.
"Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australian children and adults, leading to pain, infection, tooth loss and even hospitalisation.
"Water fluoridation is the most effective, safest and economical way to help prevent tooth decay at a community level, improving oral health and saving money for individuals and the health system."
While Dr Matthews said fluoride is only one part of ensuring good oral health, the combination of drinking fluoridated water and brushing with fluoride toothpaste offers more protection against dental decay than either measure alone.
Dr Matthews made reference to Australia's leading expert body developing health advice, the National Health and Medical Research Council (the NHRMC).
She said the expert body has conducted several comprehensive reviews on the efficacy and safety of water fluoridation.
Dr Matthews said reviews have shown water fluoridation is effective in reducing dental decay and found no evidence of any negative health effects associated with water fluoridation at recommended levels in Australia.
"The NHRMC's 2017 review of the latest evidence found water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by up to 44 per cent in children and by 27 per cent in adults," she said.
"An Australian study conducted in 2012 indicated water fluoridation resulted in cost savings - for every $1 spent on fluoridation, $7-$18 was saved in avoided treatment costs.
"The latest Health NSW data shows there are about 4500 adults in the Mid-North Coast LHD currently waiting for treatment in the public dental system, with about 90,000 adult patients in NSW."
Dr Matthews said more than $10bn was spent on dental services in Australia in 2016-17, up about $4bn over a 10-year period, which shows the huge effects oral health issues have on local and national health resources.
- The reasons as to why people are against water fluoridation will be explored in part three of this series.
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