Dentists appalled at Wellington Water's fluoride failures

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

“Appalled” and “shocked” is how some describe Wellington Water’s handling of its fluoride debacle.

“The reason this is so shocking is that water fluoridation is extremely beneficial for oral health," Dr Rob Beaglehole from the New Zealand Dental Association said.

He said children living in areas where the water contained fluoride were 40 per cent less likely to have tooth decay.

“Fluoride benefits the teeth in three ways: it strengthens teeth, also disrupts and interferes with bugs that cause tooth decay, and, importantly, it repairs early stages of tooth decay."

On Wednesday, it was revealed fluoride had been switched off for Wellington City, Upper Hutt and Porirua on February 8.

But in a media briefing on Thursday evening, Wellington Water said fluoride was cut from the area's water supply much earlier than suggested.

“The Te Marua treatment plant ceased operation in May 2021, and the Gear Island water treatment plant ceased in November 2021,” said Wellington Water chair Lynda Carroll.

It was also revealed there had been low and inconsistent levels of fluoridation for four years.

Wellington City Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons had been vocal on the issue for quite some time now. She said that “residents, particularly parents and caregivers, deserve better than this so we can make appropriate health choices for our families”.

Wellington Water is holding an independent inquiry into why fluoride was turned off, how the situation came to be and why they misled the public.

“I want to give the independent review a chance to succeed, but it does need to take a forensic approach to looking at what went wrong, leave no stone unturned and ask really hard and probing questions,” Fitzsimons said.

This was just another addition to Wellington’s water woes.

From millions of litres of sewage being discharged into the harbour in 2019, to multiple burst pipes in 2020, which Wellington Water labelled some at the time as simply “bad luck".

That "bad luck" continued into 2021 with more burst pipes stinking out the city, contaminating water, shutting off supply and flooding roads.

“It’s deeply frustrating, and what it speaks to is a culture within Wellington Water that doesn’t see itself as an important public entity, but instead seems to operate on some kind of corporate or commercial model, which is totally unacceptable for a public agency as such," Fitzsimons said.

“This latest failure by Wellington Water makes the case for large-scale reform through Three Waters.

"We need to see utility agencies taking an approach which puts residents at the centre of decision-making, not what's happening here which is a cover-up."

A glass of water (file picture).

As of late last year, a decision was made by the Government to shift the fluoridation of water from the hands of councils to the Ministry of Health.

Beaglehole, from the New Zealand Dental Association, was concerned Wellington was not the only region in the country with fluoride failures.

"We're also wondering what’s going on around the rest of the country? Are there adequate quality standards?

"We're calling on the Ministry of Health to ensure all water supplies that are currently fluoridating the water actually have adequate standards."

For those in Wellington, the advice from him now was to brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste and make sure you’re not rinsing your mouth with water afterwards.

Wellington Water said it would take up to nine months for fluoride to be restored in the capital.