The Ministry of Health is best placed to manage the bitter debate that rages around fluoride and whether it should be added to water, dentists say.Dentists have backed a local government plea for the Ministry of Health to take charge of the bitter water fluoridation debate.
Councils convened at the weekend and penned a request for government to treat fluoridation as a public health issue and take control of all decisions around its addition to drinking water.
Councils, as owners of the water supply, have responsibility for fluoridation. But in recent years they have been dragged into expensive legal battles or forced to hold time-consuming referendums on the matter.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule says councils don't have the technical expertise to reliably respond to aggressive activists campaigning against fluoridation.
"Our view is that if this is such a big issue for New Zealand it should be regulated nationally in the same was as folic acid in bread and iodine in salt," Mr Yule said.
LGNZ is in for a robust debate with central government, which has made clear the issue is best managed locally.
Campaigners have come out swinging against the request, saying the ministry would likely legislate in favour of fluoridation, effectively forcing Kiwis to drink the chemical.
But dentists have welcomed the move, saying the council-based system is "horrendously costly, convoluted and open to inconsistency."
"The science is clear," New Zealand Dental Association Dr Rob Beaglehole said.
"Community water fluoridation is safe and effective. It greatly reduces dental disease.
"Decisions by the director-general of health will ensure action is based on science, and on the knowledge and advice of appropriately qualified health professionals."
The move has alarmed the anti-fluoride movement, which fights fluoridation on the grounds it is harmful to the developing brain.
Fluoride Free New Zealand co-ordinator Mary Byrne said she was very concerned the ministry, if charged with managing the issue, would regulate for mandatory fluoridation.
"We'd join Ireland and Singapore as the only countries in the world that did that, which would be pretty draconian," she told NZ Newswire.
"You'd have some very unhappy people in Christchurch, Marlborough, Tauranga, New Plymouth ... who will be up in arms if they're forced to have fluoride."