The Australian Medical Association says the Queensland government needs to strike a new deal with regional councils to encourage them to put fluoride back in the water supply.
About 800,000 people in regional Queensland do not have fluoride added to their drinking water. That represents more than half the population outside of the urban south-east, and 40% of the state’s Indigenous population, who have the highest rates of tooth decay.
The AMA Queensland president, Dilip Dhupelia, said the state needed to end the “piecemeal approach” that gave local councils responsibility for deciding whether to add fluoride, which was widely backed by public health experts as a safe and effective way to prevent dental problems.
Dhupelia said the situation had led to an impasse in some areas, where councils were willing to consider fluoridation but wanted the state, which owns the water supply, to cover the cost.
“There is ample evidence to prove that fluoridation is an affordable and efficient public health prevention method that all Queenslanders deserve,” he said.
Dhupelia said this week’s Local Government Association of Queensland conference in Brisbane was an opportunity for the government “to strike a collaborative approach with councillors to covering the cost and infrastructure”.
Policies about fluoridation in Queensland have changed several times during the past decade. In 2008 the Bligh government passed the Water Fluoridation Act, which required a dose of fluoride be added to all water supplies serving towns of more than 1,000 people.
In 2012 the Newman government amended the act to give local councils the option. Cairns, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Mackay, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Maryborough were among about 40 councils that voted to stop fluoridation.
The Palaszczuk government and senior public health officials support fluoridation. But the government has consistently said it will not repeal the Newman-era laws and that local councils will remain the ultimate decision-makers.
The AMA and Australian Dental Association have in recent months launched public information campaigns in those areas attempting to encourage locals to back fluoridation, citing studies that show significant public health benefits. In 2015, the University of Queensland found the rate of tooth decay among children dropped 19% after fluoride was added to water in the Logan-Beaudesert area.
Dhupelia said most councils retained the infrastructure to put fluoride in the water but that some had “succumbed to some ridiculous anti-fluoridation lobbying”.
“Councillors must ignore the conspiracy theorists and follow the science: fluoridation combined with good oral hygiene reduces tooth decay by up to 40%,” Dhupelia said.
Townsville council estimates the cost of adding fluoride to the water supply is about 60c a year for each resident.
The state health minister, Steven Miles, has been approached for comment.