MUSKOKA – Fluoride will no longer be added to municipal water in Muskoka.
District of Muskoka council decided at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, in a narrow vote of 10 to nine to stop fluoridating municipal water.
Councillors heard two presentations opposed to fluoridation and two in support of it before having a short debate on a motion to reverse their 2011 decision to continue fluoridating the water.
“I’m not going to go into discussion about the research because there is so much data on both sides that we could just continue to go around in circles,” said Huntsville coun. Fran Coleman, who brought the new motion to the council table. “But it is a changing world and I have to ask myself the question, ‘Is the status quo acceptable at this stage?’”
Coleman noted that councillors had heard in the presentations against fluoridation that former accepted practices included smoking on buses and trains.
“At the time, we all believed it was acceptable and there was no harm done,” she said. “Well, we all know that has changed.”
She said the question council faced that evening was one of choice.
“It’s about the people we represent. They deserve choice,” she said. “I don’t feel that I can honestly say to myself that I am worthy of making the decision to medicate a population or a minority of a population that choose or wishes not to have fluoride in their water system.”
Coleman received applause from many of the 40 people sitting in the gallery.
Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, and Dr. Adrian Musters, a member of the Muskoka Simcoe Dental society, spoke in support of fluoridation that evening.
Gardner and Musters argued that fluoridated water prevents tooth decay.
But Jim McEachran, a member of Muskoka Residents Opposing Fluoridation, and Dr. Brian McLean, a dentist, discussed the potential dangers of over fluoridation, the inability to monitor consumption and the ethics of adding a non-essential chemical to drinking water.
Bracebridge coun. Steve Clement, who seconded Coleman’s motion, said he had too many questions about the alleged benefits of fluoridation to support it. And he noted that a large amount of municipal water ends up on food or lawns and he questioned whether it was cost effective for the district to continue spending $50,000 annually on fluoridation.
“The health unit is mandated to protect and promote health and prevent disease. Can we do this without chemicals? I think we can do this for oral hygiene, without chemicals, with brushing and flossing and going to the dentist,” said Clement.
Clement received boisterous support from the gallery.
District chair John Klinck stepped in.
“I might suggest that clapping is most appropriate, but hooting is not,” said Klinck.
Bracebridge mayor Graydon Smith then stood in support of fluoridation.
“I have a bottle-fed baby at home. Four months old. I’m glad fluoride is in the water,” said Smith. “I want my kids to have the best start that they can have.”
He said no one had presented any data against fluoridation that he considered reliable or peer-reviewed that would change his mind.
He added that he was not about to ask for the removal of iodine from salt or vitamin D from milk, either.
But the argument seemed to shift when Huntsville mayor Claude Doughty stood to speak.
Doughty, a retired dentist and former president of the Royal Collage of Dental Surgeons, said he would not debate the alleged health hazards of fluoridation.
“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t repercussions, but it really doesn’t strike me that it is a significant health issue,” he said.
But he said parents and children are more aware today of the need for dental hygiene than in the past and there are more ways to include fluoride in dental maintenance.
“Fluoride wasn’t in the toothpaste when I graduated. It is today. It’s everywhere,” he said. “When you put that against the background of fluoride in the drinking water, it’s additive. At the end of the day, there is more chance of problems from excessive fluoride ingestion.”
The health unit stated earlier that Muskoka has a lower rate of childhood cavities than non-fluoridated communities in Ontario. But Doughty considered the difference insignificant.
And he said half of Muskoka’s residents use wells rather than municipal water and there is no data that examines the difference in tooth decay rates between the two groups.
“Many of those people in outlying areas that are not on municipal services are the most challenged, economically,” said Doughty.
He suggested there was a better way to use the money the district spends on fluoridation.
“I would support removing fluoride from the drinking water if this organization takes that $50,000 and puts it in community services specifically for the treatment of those people who, I can tell you, need emergency dental treatment today,” said Doughty. “It’s an epiphany for me tonight. I’ve never said this in all the years I’ve been involved in dentistry. But I think it’s the right decision.”
Doughty’s comments garnered an enthusiastic response from the gallery.
“Run for prime minister!” shouted one man.
Tony White, acting chief administrative officer for the district, later said the target date for shutting off municipal water fluoridation systems is Nov. 4.
“All of our water systems have licenses and permits. We have to satisfy ourselves that we can shut these systems off without running afoul of our licenses and permits,” said White. “We’ll be talking to the Ministry of the Environment about that.”
The district intends to notify the public as well that it will no longer be fluoridating water.
The decision about what to do with the funds previously allocated to fluoridation will be made during the 2014 budget process.