After hearing numerous scientific arguments Monday for and against water fluoridation, city council members now must decide which ones they believe.
Medical and dental professionals from both sides of the fluoridation fence presented their respective cases on the hazards and benefits of fluoridation when council met as Community Issues Committee. The session was held for council members to gather information on the issue, but it may not be long before they formally debate whether to end or continue fluoridation, which was introduced in 1974 following a civic plebiscite.
“We have no right to mass-medicate our neighbours,” said Dr. Robert Dickson, a family physician from Calgary, who argued that even with low concentrations of fluoride, it’s impossible to control dosages ingested by those who drink more tap water than others.
“I believe in fluoride except that we’re using it totally wrong. We don’t swallow our sunscreen, so why would we swallow fluoride?” he said. “We’re over-medicating people with fluoride.”
Along with Dickson, James Beck, a retired University of Calgary professor of medical biophysics, cited research which they claimed casts doubt on the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation in preventing tooth decay.
Public health heavyweights from the provincial and federal levels, however, presented evidence from other scientific studies which they said proved such conclusions by fluoride opponents are faulty.
Dr. Peter Cooney, Health Canada’s chief dental officer, travelled from Ottawa to address council. He cited independent and departmental studies which indicate that as public water fluoridation became more widespread in the past four decades, tooth decay in Canadian children dropped 80 per cent.
Cooney said fluoridation is also helping adults and seniors keep their teeth longer.
“You’re not just going to hurt kids if you take (fluoridation) away, you’re going to hurt adults and seniors,” he told council members.
In addition, Dr. Lorne Clearsky, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services in Calgary, noted that since 1997, there’ve been 18 major scientific review of fluoridation around the world which have all concluded that water fluoridation is effective, safe and beneficial for everyone. He likened fluoridation to other accepted public health and safety measures such as smoking bans, seatbelt regulations and motorcycle helmet laws.
Luke Schwart, dental public health officer for AHS, went further, suggesting alarming reports circulated on the Internet by a small but vocal minority of fluoride opponents may amount to deliberate misinformation.
“By repeating the stories often enough, people start to believe it’s true,” Schwart told council members.
Council also received numerous written submissions for and against fluoridation. Among those was a letter from Dr. Gary Fong, a local dentist, who urged council members not to rush to a decision on the issue and recommended decreasing the level of fluoridation to 0.5 parts per million from 0.7 ppm.
Calgary city council voted in early February to end fluoridation. Under provincial regulations, municipalities aren’t required to add fluoride to drinking water.
A recent survey by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College found Lethbridge residents are divided on whether fluoridation of tap water should continue. The survey found nearly 49 per cent would prefer to continue fluoridation while almost 43 want it to end.
Beck, who previously spoke against fluoridation at a public session in Lethbridge last December, also questioned the ethics of administering fluoride to the public without their informed approval or consent.
Clearsky, meanwhile, argued that fluoridation is a justifiable public health “intervention” which balances individual freedom with the protection of the health of the overall population.