For 40 years, fluoride has been added to the Lac La Biche community’s treated drinking water, but County Council is still considering joining half of the municipalities in Alberta in putting an end to fluoridation.
“We’re basically gathering as much information as we can,” said Mayor Omer Moghrabi. “Just over 50 per cent of the province does not add fluoride (to potable water).”
Councillors met with Alberta Health Services (AHS) representatives on Tuesday to discuss the merits of continuing to add fluoride to the municipal water supply.
Dental hygienist Alison Cote told Council this area typically sees high rates of dental caries, or tooth decay. Images of children’s teeth, blackened and rotted, supported her point. Fluoride helps to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay.
“I see this far too often,” she said. “Anything that we can do to help prevent it is important.”
In some cases, children need to be hospitalized because of severe tooth infections, Cote says.
According to AHS, the source water used to replenish the County’s water supply has 0.2 milligrams per litre of naturally occurring fluoride. With fluoridation happening, treated water contains 0.6 mg/L.
The only recognized adverse effect of fluoridation is the potential for dental fluorosis, a relatively rare condition in which overexposure to fluoride affects tooth enamel development, says regional medical officer of health Dr. Mayank Singal.
A common misconception is that many developed countries don’t fluoridate their water supplies, but other countries fluoridate salt instead or have publicly funded dental systems, he says.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor MJ Siebold asked about statistics from the City of Calgary, which stopped fluoridation in 2011. Information on tooth decay rates since then would be helpful to have, she says.
Councillor John Nowak steered the conversation away from dental health, saying there must be “an ethical or moral dilemma” in fluoridating an entire community’s water supply when not everyone is aware of the pros and cons of doing so.
“I personally wouldn’t want to ingest something I don’t fully understand,” he said.
Singal answered that the issue of individual choice versus community benefit does come up—“That is always a challenge,” he said—referencing a report by a public health ethics committee in Quebec in 2012 that says, “…the benefits of fluoridation outweigh its potential negative effects on health and the environment and…such benefits justify impinging on the freedom of choice of people who do not wish to have their water fluoridated.”
Nowak says it shouldn’t be up to the municipality to mandate fluoride consumption for the entire community when not everyone needs it or has the same dental health situation.
“If you have a headache, Mr. Mayor, I shouldn’t have to take Tylenol with you,” he said.
Mayor Moghrabi, however, says the municipality should make that decision, after consulting with the public. If people in the community are opposed to stopping fluoridation, they’ll have an opportunity to give feedback.
“We will get public input before we make a decision,” he said.
Council passed a motion on Tuesday to have administrators gather more information on the benefits and drawbacks of fluoridation. Further details should be brought forward at a later meeting.