CALGARY — It’s an issue that could affect thousands of local children, but a report into how the city could improve the dental hygiene of the poor is being kept secret for the moment, to the exasperation of one alderman and the chagrin of some dentists.
The report was ordered by council in February after it voted to stop adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water, but still wanted to use the $750,000 in yearly savings to fund alternate anti-cavity programs for low-income kids.
But on Wednesday a city official said the report on such a program should be kept confidential as there is a “broader response in the report” involving certain financial implications for other organizations and the “question of jurisdiction, to some degree.”
No further details were made available.
The prospect of a significant public health issue being debated in secret infuriated Ald. Gael MacLeod, who said it was “pretty clear” the whole item was crafted so there would be no public input on what has been a high profile issue.
“I certainly think that the public should have an opportunity and that was my big concern,” MacLeod said.
The council committee debated, behind closed, for more than an hour what to do.
It is now recommending that city council send administration back to the drawing board to build a new report — this one to be made public and offering more options on how to prevent cavities in children.
“We didn’t get options,” Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra. “We got one recommendation and it wasn’t public. So, we said we want the options and we want it to be public so we can have a discussion.”
Further complicating the matter is that Alberta Health Services has a fluoride program for low-income children, and some aldermen are now questioning whether the city’s involvement is even necessary.
Both the head of a local dentist association and the city’s medical officer for Alberta Health Services said they were unaware the report was coming to the council committee Wednesday.
The only thing alerting the public that it was to be dealt with was one line in the community and protective services agenda, which didn’t mention tooth, decay, dental or hygiene.
Instead it was entitled, “A new program for low income children.”
“We’re always open to provide input, but if it’s in camera, we don’t even know it exists,” said Dr. Al Graas, the president of the Calgary and District Dental Society.
And Dr. Kuen Chow, who volunteers part of his time with the Calgary Urban Project Society doing dentistry on the poor, said it was “pretty upsetting” that the report was being kept secret.
“We definitely need a say, because we’re the ones on the front lines,” Chow said.
He said money city hall is saving by not adding fluoride to drinking water would be better spent on education campaigns to tell children and parents what they should do to prevent tooth decay.
There are also questions about what type of program the city should offer, given Alberta Health Services launched a campaign this year to get fluoride “varnish” put on the teeth of children.
Dr. Richard Musto, the city’s medical officer, said one campaign targets Grade 1 students in some lower-income communities; another is being piloted through a health centre and looks at one- and two-year-olds.
Still, Musto said they could use the city’s help.
“We don’t have it covered,” he said. “We’re not going to get everyone and we have to come up with the resources to get as many as we can.
“Yes, there’s room and we welcome the city participating in whatever way they can.”
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