District Health Boards rather than local authorities will decide which community water supplies are fluoridated, under a proposal announced today by Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne.
The move would mean the fluoridation of the water supply of an extra 1.4 million New Zealanders, almost doubling access to fluoridised water, something Government says would improve oral health for Kiwis.
Mr Dunne says the shift needs to happen because fluoridisation is a health issue and not one that should lie with local government "simply because they own the pipes".
"Communities need to have an input, but because it's a health issue, its better that impact be through the district health board," says Mr Dunne.
He says the change will require legislation to go through Parliament, and so there will be a public submissions process, but thinks the New Zealand will be in favour of the idea.
"All of the opinion polls that we've seen over a long period of time have consistently shown that a majority of New Zealanders support fluoridation."
President of Local Government Lawrence Yule says local authorities have been lobbying for the shift for two years. He says local government has been dragged into dealing with fluoridisation, but it is a health issue and it should be addressed by the health professionals that are elected to DHBs.
"This has taken a stress and a burden away from us, fluoride is a very controversial issue," says Mr Yule.
"The difference is they are professionals in health and have all the specialist skills and are elected on health issues whereas local authorities aren’t."
National Coordinator for Fluoride Free NZ Mary Byrne disagrees, she says she's shocked and disappointed with the news.
"I think the reason that they're moving it is ordinary people -- once they find out all the information about fluoridation -- don't want it," says Ms Byrne.
She says we can't know how much is safe for consumption and that ingestion of fluoride is causing more harm than good.
"We have something like 30-40 percent of children in New Zealand with some form of dental cirrhosis -- the only way you get that is by having too much fluoride. Fluoride is not an essential nutrient; it means they've been poisoned basically by fluoride and its showing on their teeth.
"To increase fluoride exposure to New Zealanders is absolutely crazy."