(Debate on Bill, 27 February 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Amendment Bill 2013, which will help increase access to fluoridated water in New South Wales by giving the Minister for Health power to direct a water authority to fluoridate its supply. We are not discussing a radical shift in policy.
Fluoride was first added to water supplies in New South Wales in 1956 and 96 per cent of the State's population now has access to fluoridated water. Water fluoridation is a tried and tested preventative health care measure that is referred to by the American Centre for Disease Control as one of the top 10 great health achievements of the last century.
Poor oral health can be painful, costly and embarrassing. It can impact on diet and social inclusion and has been linked to serious conditions including cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Australia, stroke and reduced birth weight. In fact, without medical treatment through antibiotics dental caries can be lethal. According to NSW Health, dental caries are a major contributor to diet-attributable morbidity and poor dental health has been the biggest cause of acute preventable hospital admissions nationally.
Fluoride protects against dental cavities and tooth decay and significantly reduces the need to extract teeth under anaesthetic. The Australian Dental Association recommends drinking fluoridated water, citing numerous studies indicating that this leads to an 18-40 per cent reduction in tooth decay. Fluoride has been proven to protect enamel from acid, a main cause of tooth decay, reduce the ability of bacteria to produce acid, and re-mineralise areas of damage. Without water fluoridation the risk of poor oral health, especially for children, is significantly increased. In areas with a low rate of fluoridation such as in Queensland and some northern New South Wales towns, the rate of dental caries is significantly higher than the national average.
The Daily Telegraph reported comments by a Lismore doctor that the district has almost three times the rate of tooth extraction under anaesthetic for children. It is the most vulnerable members of our society that get hit the hardest. The 2005 Child Dental Health Survey demonstrated that young children from the lowest socioeconomic areas had almost 70 per cent more dental decay than children from the highest socioeconomic areas. The Office of Communities reports that in 2007 more than 48 per cent of children examined in New South Wales primary schools had a history of past tooth decay. The Council of Social Services of New South Wales supports this amendment stating that fluoridating public water "has the greatest benefit for low income and disadvantaged people, in particular children, who are most at risk of dental disease".
Fluoridation is an incredibly cost-effective public health policy, leading to savings in dental and other medical treatments. Indeed, the Australian Council for Social Services estimates that for every dollar spent on fluoridating Australia's water supply, up to $80 is saved in dental treatment costs. Water fluoridation is supported by every reputable health organisation worldwide including the World Health Organization, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the World Dental Federation, the Heart Foundation and the International Association for Dental Research. Water fluoridation is a health and social equity issue that should be under the control of the government health department. It is important that all New South Wales residents, especially children, have access to fluoridated water. I support the bill.