20 August 2014
Dr Roger Blakeley
Chief Planning Officer
Dear Dr Blakeley
In February this year, on behalf of several Councils, you made similar requests to the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (PMCSA), the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), and the Ministry of Health, to review the scientific evidence for and against the efficacy and safety of fluoridation of public water supplies. After discussion between the parties, it was agreed that the Office of the PMCSA and the RSNZ would establish a panel to undertake a review. This review would adhere strictly to the scientific issues of safety and efficacy (or otherwise), but take into account the various concerns that have been raised in the public domain about the science and safety of fluoride. It would not consider the ethical and philosophical issues that have surrounded fluoridation and influenced legal proceedings lately. The Prime Minister gave his consent for the Office of the PMCSA to be involved and funding was provided by Councils through your office and by the Ministry of Health.
We are pleased to advise the report is being delivered on the timetable agreed.
This report aimed to evaluate the current state of scientific knowledge on the health effects of water fluoridation, in order to inform decision-making on continuing or implementing community water fluoridation, particularly within the New Zealand context. Several previous rigorous systematic reviews were used as the basis for this analysis, and literature searches in Medline, EMBASE, the Cochrane library database, Scopus, and Web of Science were undertaken to identify subsequent studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Alleged health effects from both the scientific and non-scientific literature were considered, andmany original studies relating to these claims were re-analysed. The main review sources are presented in the Appendix.
Aside from animal toxicity studies, articles considered for this review were those that had a primary focus on community water fluoridation or human exposure to fluoride at levels around those used for CWF. Studies were assessed for robust design, including adequate sample size, appropriate data collection and analysis, adjustment for possible confounding factors, and conclusions appropriate to the data analysis.
The report does not consider in depth the broader philosophical issues that lead some people to have objections to CWF.
The report and its executive summary are very clear in their conclusions.
There is compelling evidence that fluoridation of water at the established and recommended levels produces broad benefits for the dental health of New Zealanders. In this context it is worth noting that dental health remains a major issue for much of the New Zealand population, and that economically and from the equity perspective fluoridation remains the safest and most appropriate approach for promoting dental public health.
The only side effect of fluoridation at levels used in NZ is minimal fluorosis, and this is not of major cosmetic significance. There are no reported cases of disfiguring fluorosis associated with levels used for fluoridating water supplies in New Zealand.
The use of fluoridated toothpastes does not change these conclusions or obviate the recommendations.
Given the caveat that science can never be absolute, the panel is unanimous in its conclusion that there are no adverse effects of fluoride of any significance arising from fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand. In particular, no effects on brain development, cancer risk or cardiovascular or metabolic risk have been substantiated, and the safety margins are such that no subset of the population is at risk because of fluoridation.
All of the panel members and ourselves conclude that the efficacy and safety of fluoridation of public water supplies, within the range of concentrations currently recommended by the Ministry of Heath, is assured. We conclude that the scientific issues raised by those opposed to fluoridation are not supported by the evidence. Our assessment suggests that it is appropriate, from the scientific perspective, that fluoridation be expanded to assist those New Zealand communities that currently do not benefit from this public health measure – particularly those with a high prevalence of dental caries.