Twenty-three-year-old Lucie Mayer brought her three children to the Montreal Children’s Hospital dental clinic for their first visit yesterday afternoon.
Their mouths said it all.
Seven-year-old Shane Mayer-Senecal had 12 cavities, his 5-year-old brother, Andre, had eight, and 2-year-old Chelsea had seven, making a total of 27 cavities for the Verdun family.
It’s typical, said Stephane Schwartz, director of the Montreal Children’s dental clinic. She said her clinic sees hundreds of children with double-digit cavities, abscesses and rampant tooth decay.
The problem grows as politicians, scientists, public health officials and others debate the merits of fluoridating the city’s drinking water.
Often, Schwartz said, the children come from the city’s poorer neighbourhoods, their diets laden with juice, pop, candy and other junk foods that promote tooth decay.
Still, she maintained, fluoride in their water would dramatically change their dental charts and general health.
As Montreal’s Nov. 6 municipal election campaign unrolls, people for and against fluoridating Montreal’s drinking water are fighting to have their say.
Yesterday, Schwartz joined a dozen Montreal dentists, pediatricians, dental hygienists and university researchers in a call to Mayor Gerald Tremblay to make a commitment to fluoridation.
Most municipalities across North America add fluoride to their drinking water.
Organized under the banner La Coalition de Montreal pour des dents en sante (Montreal Coalition for Healthy Teeth), they painted a dismal dental health picture of Montreal children.
They cited public health statistics that show a 35-per-cent increase of untreated cavities in Grade 3 schoolchildren since 1999, and dramatic differences in the rate of cavities in preschoolers between Montreal boroughs where the water has been fluoridated and those where it has not.
“If you had a study showing that 35 per cent of Montreal children are at risk of contracting encephalitis and you could easily fix it, there would be no question,” said James Lund, head of dentistry at McGill University.
The pro-fluoride event came on the heels of an anti-fluoride one held this week that called for the city of Montreal to leave the water supply alone.
There, Pierre-Jean Morin, a retired Laval University professor and Quebec City hospital director, argued fluoride does not decrease the incidence of tooth decay, and presents other risks.
Morin said several studies have found that in some municipalities where fluoride is added to drinking water, people’s fluoride levels became more than seven times those considered safe.
As well, he said, drinking fluoridated water increases the risk of cancer and congenital birth defects.
He said a study of cancer deaths and congenital birth defects in 20 North American cities over a 28-year period revealed the rates were stable before fluoridated drinking water and increased after it was introduced in the 1960s.
Morin’s book, Fluoridation: Autopsy of a Medical Error, is expected in the coming months.
Yesterday, however, Montreal doctors and dentists were reading from a different page.
Gary Pekeles, vice-president of the Canadian Pediatric Society, said as little as 0.7 parts per million of fluoride in drinking water is enough to prevent cavities without causing fluorosis, an excessive fluoride intake that leads to staining of the teeth and, some say, other problems.
“It’s deplorable,” said Shirley Blaichman, also of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.”We see children who can’t eat, who can’t sleep, who have chronic and acute pain that is very preventable.”
As it stands, Montreal is one of the few remaining cities in North America not to add fluoride to its drinking water.
Former mayor Pierre Bourque has promised to fluoridate Montreal’s drinking water if re-elected and Projet Montreal officials have said they will review the issue if the public demands it.
But Tremblay and his party have made no commitment on the issue, said Duy-Dat Vu, president of the Association of Pediatric Dentists of Quebec.
“When you see young children with their teeth rotted with cavities, it makes you angry,” Vu said.
After jumping out of the dentist’s chair yesterday, Chelsea Mayer-Senecal happily played with her new Barbie toothbrush and animal stickers.
But, Schwartz said, the unhappy reality is the youngster joined 300 other children in need of dental work and who, because of their young age, require general anesthesia.
The wait at the Children’s is 18 months.
In the meantime, Lucie Mayer said she is going to cut back on the amount of juice her daughter and two sons drink – and make sure they brush their teeth.
If she can afford it, she said, she would also buy the sodium fluoride drops dentists at the Children’s prescribed for all three of her children yesterday.
But, she said, fluoride in her tap water would make life easier.