I've got pretty good teeth. Maybe it's because I grew up in Melbourne drinking fluoridated water, or maybe it's because my mum enforced a regime of brushing teeth twice a day that's become a lifelong habit.
Mum had bad teeth and was determined that her kids wouldn't, so she supplemented what was already in the water and on the toothpaste with little pink fluoride tablets. It doesn't seem to have done me any harm, but I'm not convinced that mass medicating the entire population via the drinking water supply is the right thing to do.
I think the reason this issue attracts so much passion is because it seems so insidious; once it's in the water supply you no longer have the choice to avoid it. I know of one long-term Lismore resident who says she will move away if fluoride is added to the water.
Many people involved in the anti-fluoride campaign can be over zealous in their crusading, and I certainly don't believe all of their claims about medical conditions directly linked to fluoride. But I think there is enough doubt about the possible side effects that we should be taking a precautionary approach.
This region is one of the few places in NSW (and Australia) that doesn't have fluoride in the water. The rationale for adding it is that it will improve dental health. But surely there are other ways to do this without adding it to the drinking water? How about a Health Department education campaign about the importance of brushing your teeth? (Maybe my mum to help with this?) And/or free fluoride tablets for those who want them. But adding it to the water supply and taking away choice makes some people suspicious and resentful.
Rous Water chairman Phil Silver told me this week he was "no dental health expert" and while he supports the introduction of fluoride, he also feels some resentment towards NSW Health for putting Rous in a situation where they have had to defend a position that was not of their own making.
And it is far from a unanimous desire of this community to fluoridate. Byron Council voted against it (and is not getting pressure from either residents or the Health Department to change its mind). Ballina Council originally voted against it, then changed its position when a new Council voted again in 2009. Lismore Council voted in favour in 2006, but I wonder what the result would be if it was put as a question to the electorate. It seems we will never know.
As the regions' water authority, it is Rous Water's job to provide clean, safe drinking water. It is the Health Department job to educate people about health isuess. Shoving it down our throats isn't the answer.