Who’s suffering ‘insane’ levels of tooth decay
A LACK of mandatory fluoridation in Queensland drinking water supplies is contributing to "insane" levels of dental decay in the elderly, experts say.
Although the state's tooth rot crisis has been linked mostly to children, former Australian Dental Association Queensland president Martin Webb said the "frail elderly" were also suffering.
"Fluoridated drinking water strengthens adults' teeth too," Dr Webb said. "Research is showing that it's a lifetime exposure to fluoride that actually helps to protect you."
Elderly Queenslanders are particularly at risk of dental decay, not only because many have grown up without fluoridated drinking water. When they go into aged care, they often stop brushing their teeth properly and their sugar intake frequently increases.
Some develop decay so severe they end up having all their teeth removed.
About 28 per cent of the Queensland population does not receive the benefits of a fluoridated water supply.
Water fluoridation was compulsory under the former Bligh Government in communities of more than 1000 people but the mandate was removed by the LNP after it took power at the 2012 state election.
Health Minister Steven Miles said some councils still had fluoride-dosing infrastructure that was paid for by the previous Labor Government, but refused to use it.
"Other councils stopped building infrastructure when the legislation changed in 2012, or have since removed the fluoride infrastructure," Mr Miles said.
"I'm on the record in support of fluoride in water supplies, but I want this to be a health issue, not a political issue.
"I don't want to force the hand of councils, I want to see the few councils not using fluoride to add it to their water supplies voluntarily."
Dr Webb, a member of the Australian Dental Association's federal executive and Sunshine Coast-based dentist, said the effect of water fluoridation was greatest on those that had the least ability to afford dentistry, including the elderly and people with disabilities.
"Fluoridation is not a council issue, it's a public health issue," he said. "You shouldn't really put the health of Queenslanders in the hands of people that decide roads, rates and rubbish."
ADAQ president Adrian Frick, a Bundaberg dentist, described dental decay among the elderly in his unfluoridated regional city as "insane".
"We all know there's a problem in aged care," Dr Frick said. "Fluoride is part of the mix."
University of Queensland dental science professor Laurie Walsh said lifelong exposure to water fluoridation reduced dental decay on the root surfaces of teeth - a significant problem in older patients.
"The benefit is very big - between 50 and 75 per cent reduction," he said.
"There's been a very big push to try to get better dental services into residential aged care facilities to help people with their everyday cleaning and to monitor their oral health.
"Someone coming into a nursing home can lose a large number of teeth very, very fast - within 18 months or two years."
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dilip Dhupelia said reducing dental caries through fluoridating water supplies would improve elderly patients' quality of life.
"There's no reason not to have it.".