The room was divided during Tuesday’s public hearing as city councillors listened to opposing sides of a possible decision to add fluoride into Calgary’s drinking water once again.
Water fluoridation has been a decades-old debate which last left off with council removing fluoride from water in 2011. However, council has since revisited the issue and is once again considering the possibility of bringing fluoride back.
Upon council’s request, the U of C’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health developed a report to determine the health effects of water fluoridation. A summary of these findings were presented at the start of the hearing and outlined several benefits such as reduced tooth decay and cavities in children.
The study’s principal investigator Lindsay McLaren, who conducted an Edmonton-Calgary comparison of dental health, argued for fluoridation as “a good idea” and said removing it has been detrimental to children’s oral health, especially those from low-income families.
Others, such as the Alex Community Health Centre CEO Joy Bowen-Eyre also argued in favour of fluoride in drinking water as a way to address inequality in the city. She said while running their dental bus, which provides free oral care to low-income youth, they noticed that half of the children had advanced tooth decay.
“For many families working multiple low wage jobs, a lot of things like brushing daily can simply fall through the cracks.
“We recognize that fluoride is a broadly effective, equitable and cost-effective means to provide a base level of preventative care and could greatly benefit the vulnerable children that we see on our dental bus everyday,” Bowen-Eyre said.
Is fluoride our best bet?
The hearing shifted as members from Safe Water Calgary stepped up to the podium. The group not only identified what they say are flaws in the data supporting fluoridation, but also warned about fluoride’s neurotoxic effects on children.
Paul Connett, one of the leading fluoridation critics and director of the Fluoride Action Network, said fluoridating water to improve dental health is simply not worth the risk.
Connett cited a study by the National Toxicology Program in the United States, whose findings showed a higher fluoride exposure associated with child cognitive impairments like ADHD and lower IQ.
He also argued that many cases of tooth decay seen at the Alex are due to baby bottle tooth decay not the removal of fluoride.
“You cannot reverse that with water fluoridation,” Connett said. “But you can reverse it if you educate the parents.”
‘If you’re uncertain, don’t do it’
Dr. Robert Dickson, founder of Safe Water Calgary, also argued that the proposed benefits of adding fluoride to water “have this upside down.”
Ninety-five per cent of the world do not fluoridate their water. These places include most of B.C., which Dickson says has some of the best teeth in Canada.
“The scaremongering that the pro-fluoridations have done all morning, all the infections, everything ... It has nothing to do with water fluoridation.”
Dickson advised council to remember the precautionary principle – If you’re uncertain, don’t do it.
“It's the duty of city governments to ensure the rights of residents,” he said. “These include civil rights, conservation of the environment and fiscal responsibility. Fluoridation policy fails on all counts.”
The inability to choose water without fluoride is also concerning to Deborah Morgan, whose son drinks large amounts of water due to his autoimmune disease. Morgan works in childhood nutrition and worries that ingesting fluoride may lead to harmful health effects.
The public hearing concluded after nearly 12 hours, at 9 pm. Council said they would not be making any immediate decisions.
Coun. Evan Woolley expressed uncertainty around the city’s jurisdiction as well as the budget to reintroduce fluoridation. The fluoride debate is far from over, however, and will likely carry over to the next year.
- By Andrea Wong