Judge suggests reluctance to dip his toes into water on merits of fluoride debate

Stuff | 5 July 2016

A Court of Appeal judge has indicated a reluctance to get into the merits of the fluoridation debate.

“We understand today’s orthodoxy may be tomorrow’s heresy. Move on,” Justice Tony Randerson told a lawyer for anti-fluoride campaigners New Health New Zealand.

The judge headed a three-member court for two days of appeals from New Health.

Lawyer Lisa Hansen said she was asking the court to acknowledge that the hypothesis that fluoride reduces dental decay has not been shown to any objective standard.

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It was not clear what the benefits were, if any, and it was potentially harmful, she said.

The point was important because the court should look at whether a limitation on the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment was justified, Hansen said.

New Health’s appeals continue on Wednesday.

It says South Taranaki District Council should not be able to add fluoride to the water supplies in the small towns of Patea and Waverley.

The continuing court action meant the towns were still not getting fluoride, the court was told.

Mary Scholtens, QC, also for New Health, said fluoride had no purpose other than therapy but, under the Bill of Rights Act, everyone had the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment.

New Health also said that local authorities had no legal power to add fluoride to water supplies.

South Taranaki District Council’s lawyer, Duncan Laing, told the court that fluoridation was not medical treatment, and legally the decisions were left to local authorities.

Some towns in South Taranaki had fluoridated water and others did not. Community concern about child oral health in Patea and Waverley led to the decision to fluoridate the water there, Laing said.

The Government has proposed that district health boards should be in charge of fluoridation, instead of local authorities as currently.


Its opponents consider it a potentially dangerous  additive which has contaminants including arsenic,  while supporters say it’s a natural trace mineral which protects teeth.

Some fears over fluoridation of water arise from beliefs it has an impact on cancer rates – specifically bone cancer osteosarcoma, or on the intellectual development of children, the Royal Society of NZ reports.

Fluoride accumulates in bones, so the risk of bone defects or fractures has also been extensively analysed. There are published studies suggesting links between fluoride and bone defects, but the society has questioned their validity.

The Ministry of Health and dentists generally support water fluoridation, due to its protective effect against tooth decay.

According to Water Information NZ, 58.3 per cent of the 3,917,169 people in New Zealand on networked or specified self supplies receive fluoridated water.

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