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Fluoride: Tasmanian council says towns should be able to decide what is added to drinking water

A man with a glass of water in his hand
Tasmania was the first state in the country to put fluoride into drinking water back in 1953.

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Most Australian towns have fluoride added to their water — but one council in northern Tasmania is pushing to give towns a vote on whether or not that continues.

Key points:

  • At present Government decides whether fluoride is added to drinking water
  • Fluoride is added water to help keep peoples teeth strong
  • Dr Tsai says both water fluoridation and reduction in sugar consumption is important

Tasmania was the first state in the country to put fluoride into drinking water, back in 1953, with the purpose of helping to keep teeth strong.

At present it is the Government who makes the decision on whether fluoride is added to the state's drinking water.

But Kentish Council Mayor Don Thwaites said they wanted that decision to be handed over to councils.

"The motion is that councils be allowed to have a vote on whether they want fluoride added to the public water supply or not in their area," he said.

"It's not about whether fluoride should be added or not, we believe that that's a debate that can happen after it's decided whether we can actually have a vote on the subject or not."

Mr Thwaites said the decision came out of a response to concerns from the community, expressed to them by councillors.

The issue of water fluoridation will be discussed at a statewide meeting of Tasmanian councils later this month.

'Benefits have long been acknowledged'

Water fluoridation has long been common practice in Australia, and in Tasmania almost every person who has access to treated drinking water receives a fluoridated supply.

Dr Carrie Tsai, a paediatric dentist and lecturer at the University of Sydney, said the benefits have long been acknowledged.

"Community-water fluoridation has actually proven to be one of the top public health achievements, according to the Centre for Disease Control in the US, in reducing rates of dental caries — especially in children," she said.

Dr Tsai said daily exposure of teeth to fluoridate made them more resistant to decay.

"In a sense it makes them a bit harder, and resistant to acid attacks and sugar that comes from the diet," she said.

Fluoride 'most effective on young teeth'

Dr Tsai said public health officials often focus on children's dental care, because fluoride is most effective on teeth that have not completely matured.

"There is a period of time where after the teeth erupt or come into the mouth, where the enamel is not completely mature, and so it's that time [where] the fluoride is quite effective," she said.

"And we know that dental caries, they do progress into adulthood, so taking care of this population definitely does increase their chances of having healthy mouths as they're getting older."

Dr Tsai said both water fluoridation and a reduction in sugar consumption should be considered by parents worried about their children's dental care.

"Of course we do always advise on thinking about and reducing the frequency of sugars and snacking during the day," she said.

"But as we know, the research shows that daily exposure to low doses of fluoride does help prevent caries."