Children who live in New Zealand cities where fluoride is not added to the water supply have up to 95% more tooth decay than those where fluoridation is the norm.
According to Arthi Veerasamy, of Canterbury University, four-year-olds in Christchurch, the only Kiwi city without municipal water fluoridation, have almost twice as much tooth decay than kids of the same age in Wellington.
At the same time, nine-year-olds in Christchurch have on average 80% more decay in their adult teeth than their peers in Wellington, where water is fluoridated.
Like other parts of the world, water fluoridation is a controversial subject in New Zealand, and the issue has been the subject of heated debate. Water fluoridation is endorsed by the Ministry of Health but rejected by some communities and organisations, including the Fluoride Action Network.
Owing to the pressure from anti-fluoridation campaigners, the practice was stopped in some areas of the Canterbury region surrounding Christchurch. A dental health survey in October 2000 showed 60% of Christchurch residents did not support water fluoridation.
Although Veerasamy identified the differences between the teeth of children in Christchurch and the rest of New Zealand, her study had set out to focus on the level of oral health literacy among New Zealand parents.
The researcher surveyed more than 100 parents to find out the awareness of parents of pre-school aged children regarding their children’s teeth, finding out that over one-third had poor oral health literacy—even among those parents who work in the education sector.
The results also indicated that there were associations present between parents' oral health literacy and socio-demographic variables such as ethnicity, education and family income.
Nearly half of the parents surveyed opted for water fluoridation in Christchurch, showing a strong association between those with good knowledge of treats to their children’s teeth and their attitude towards water fluoridation.
“Many past studies have supported the importance of parental health literacy in a child's health outcome. The development of the permanent first molar is initiated in the fourth month of intra-uterine life and teeth need to last for the child's lifetime,” Veerasamy said.
“The intervention to prevent oral diseases should be started even before the birth of the child making it parents’ responsibility to protect the child's teeth.
“Parents are responsible for preventing decay and caring for children's oral health in the pre-adolescent period; so parents should have good knowledge about preventing early childhood caries and protecting the child's oral health system.”