CAPE BRETON Regional Municipality has chosen the wisest course in the ongoing debate in that community about the continued municipal fluoridation of drinking water: Get expert advice.
In the meantime, CBRM politicians have sensibly postponed deciding on the issue — one with profound health-care implications — for 60 days, to hear from public health officials and interested members of the public.
The question of whether, and how much, to fluoridate drinking water has been controversial ever since the practice began some 60 years ago.
And in recent months, both Waterloo, Ont., a city of 500,000 people, and Calgary ended fluoridation of municipal drinking water.
Opponents argue that fluoridation is mass medication of the public without their consent. Fluoride, they claim, can cause serious ill-health effects in some susceptible people.
It’s true, as critics point out, that many Western European countries have ended fluoridation in the last 20 to 40 years, though there’s disagreement over whether dental health outcomes worsened afterwards.
On the other hand, both Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services have reviewed studies on water fluoridation and concluded the practice, at recommended low levels, is both safe and beneficial.
That’s a strong endorsement.
The Canadian Cancer Society also supports fluoridation, although it urges levels in drinking water be kept as low as possible while still providing a proven benefit for dental health.
Here in Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, argues that poor dental health among children is already a problem in many places. Dental problems can interfere, due to chronic pain, with schoolwork and affect learning, he says.
Roughly half of all Nova Scotians do not currently have fluoridated drinking water.
The only verified health issue with fluoride at lower levels is fluorosis, a cosmetic problem, says Dr. Strang. But national surveys have shown fluorosis is uncommon in Canada and found mainly among immigrants, he says.
CBRM should certainly not follow the lead of Calgary, which reportedly dropped fluoridation without any input from medical experts who wanted to dissuade the city from that decision