Advocates push Calgary council committee to put water fluoridation back on table

·3 min read

Child health and dental care advocates are calling on a Calgary council committee to vote in favour of a motion to bring back water fluoridation when it debates the issue next week.

Juliet Guichon, the president of Calgarians for Kids' Health and an associate professor of law and ethics at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, says the practice is cost-effective and has been shown to significantly reduce dental decay.

Fluoridation in Calgary was approved by plebiscite in 1989 with 53 per cent voting in favour.

The city began adding it to the water in 1991 and the practice was approved again in a 1998 plebiscite.

But in February 2011, Calgary city council voted 10-3 to remove fluoride from the city's drinking water and rejected the idea of having another plebiscite or referring the issue to an expert panel.

On Dec. 1, the city's finance committee is set to examine what it would cost to bring back fluoridation.

"We acknowledge that city councillors are under tremendous pressure right now to reduce costs to their budgets," Guichon said in a Zoom media availability.

"Nevertheless … fluoridation must be considered a high priority measure."

Guichon listed several arguments in favour of bringing back fluoridation, including that there's evidence the oral health of children and seniors declined after fluoridation ceased in 2011, and that it is cost effective — with $43 saved in avoided medical and dental expenses for every dollar invested, she said.

Alberta Dental Association and College president Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky said every provincial association and regulatory body in Canada is in favour of municipal water fluoridation to reduce dental disease.

"The benefit of fluoridation is taught in every dental school in the country and continues to be promoted," he said.

"Although the greatest benefits associated with community water fluoridation is associated with children and developing teens, we know that there's benefits to all sectors of the population, especially the most vulnerable."

Opponents of fluoridation have long questioned the safety of adding it to drinking water and argue that people should have a choice as to whether they're exposed to it.

Council cited cost as the major reason for removing fluoride from tap water, noting the city spent about $750,000 a year to add it and about $6 million in upgrades were needed at the Bearspaw and Glenmore water-treatment plants to keep doing it.

Fluoride naturally occurs in some foods and is found in the Bow and Elbow Rivers at a concentration between 0.1 and 0.4 mg/L. Health Canada recommends water be fluoridated to a level of 0.7 mg/L to prevent tooth decay.

Calgary dentist Dr. Wendy Wadey says the pandemic has led to an increase in dental hygiene issues.

"Normal routines went out the window and so brushing and flossing routines were lost. So we're seeing more decay than we did before," she said.

"In addition, Calgarians have lost their insurance benefits, and even worse, some have lost their jobs, so they're deciding to delay treatment until they can get back onto dental insurance."