19 October 2016
The health benefits of adding fluoride to drinking water significantly outweigh the cost, according to a paper presented at the Water New Zealand Annual Conference in Rotorua this week.
The paper estimates that over a 20-year period, fluoridation in water saves $1.4-billion from both reduced dental costs for adults as well as significant savings from the health budget for reduced dental care costs for children.
It also shows fluoride has greater absolute benefit for groups with the greatest prevalence of dental decay, particularly Maori and those who are most economically deprived. This is because fluoride reduces dental decay regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status and age.
One of the paper’s authors, Andrew Watson from CH2M Beca says investment in fluoridation saves $9 for every dollar invested.
He says this is rare among health interventions which generally require a net increase in spending to achieve improved health outcomes.
However, he points out the size of the community makes a big difference to the cost-benefit equation because of the capital costs involved.
“For instance, on average providing fluoride to communities of more than 500 people saves nine times the estimated cost of supplying fluoride, whereas in communities of fewer than 500 people, adding fluoride to water is unlikely to be cost-effective.
Earlier this year the government proposed changing legislation to give District Health Boards the responsibility of deciding whether to fluoridate community water supplies while local authorities would continue to pay the costs of water fluoridation.
Water New Zealand Chief Executive John Pfahlert says the legislation could go further.
He says fluoride provides significant health benefits and as a consequence provides savings for the health budget, and that “Consideration should be given to the government picking up the cost of adding fluoride to our water supplies rather than ratepayers.”