Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stepping out of the Dental Dark Ages

By Michael Foley

Water fluoridation has been one of the country’s most effective public health measures, but parts of Australia don’t have that benefit and may even strongly resist it. Why?

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Beaconsfield, Tasmania, is best known as the site of the 2006 mine collapse, but it was also Australia’s first fluoridated town in 1953. The decay-fighting dental health benefits of water fluoridation were quickly realised, and most states and territories jumped on board in the 1960s and 70s. The exception was Queensland, where successive state governments regarded fluoridation as a local government water treatment issue to be ignored rather than a public health issue to be encouraged.

Only in recent years has this changed. Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2004–2013 urged all state and territory governments to increase the spread of fluoridation as a matter of urgency to reduce the levels of tooth decay across the country. The Queensland Government, with unanimous support from the State Opposition, finally mandated widespread fluoridation in 2008. Queensland newspaper editorials praised the decision.

But things changed dramatically in 2012 when the newly elected State Government rushed legislative amendments through Parliament on the final sitting day of the year to once again place responsibility for water fluoridation in the hands of local councils. Health professional groups, parliamentary committees and the Queensland Fluoridation Committee were not consulted. There may have been very good reasons for the Queensland Government to place the decision-...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.