Calgary Coun. Jeromy Farkas was right to say fluoridation should be reinstated. But we don’t need another plebiscite to know what Calgarians want. Two fluoridation plebiscites, in 1989 and 1998, established that Calgary wants fluoridation.
For 20 years (1991-2011), people now aged eight to 28, benefited from strong teeth, good oral health and no harm.
Calgarians cannot wait three more years. By 2014, three years after fluoridation was removed, decayed primary tooth surfaces had risen 146%. Three of us see an alarming increase in decay in the mouths we examine daily. Emergency department visits for dental pain have increased. Why must residents continue to suffer?
Calgary should aim to be a world class, pro-science city. Fluoridation is the most researched public health measure; every credible study supports its benefits and finds no harm. In fact, just last month, more important water fluoridation research waspublished, which supported the existing, overwhelming consensus of peer-reviewed science that fluoridation is safe and effective.
The 2011 decision to cease fluoridation was based on flawed information because of a procedural problem. City councillors don’t seem to vet their “experts.” Although councillors have a mandate to listen to residents, they should not believe just any resident who purports to advise them about fluoridation safety and efficacy.
Like other complex fields of science, fluoridation science has experts. These are people who have received speciality training in population health. For physicians, this entails a five-year post-graduate training. Not just any Calgarian or indeed any Calgary physician has the requisite training to be qualified to advise elected officials about population health measures.
City council needs to “pick up its game” regarding who it will listen to on the science of fluoridation. Council should immediately invite the Calgary Medical Offer of Health and the Alberta Provincial Dental Officer of Health to advise councillors and listen also to duly qualified experts from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Moreover, city councillors should state things reasonably. Some city councillors say that Europe doesn’t fluoridate. Europe has many fragmented water delivery systems so can’t easily top up natural fluoride levels as we can in North America. So many European and other countries fluoridate the salt instead.
Likewise, some city councillors say that fluoridation is not their jurisdiction — that they can remove fluoridation but not return it because the matter concerns health, a provincial responsibility.
The jurisdictional claim is nonsense. The city has the power to engage in health measures that prevent harm and does so all the time such as with chlorination, lifeguards, streetlights, snow plows and safe road and bridge design.
Such jurisdictional quibbling fails to recognize that there is only one taxpayer. It fails also to respect Jordan’s Principle, which holds that children should not be denied a health benefit while governments fight over who should pay.
This is not a financial issue: fluoridation costs $0.60 per person per year. The $6 million-$8 million in capital costs would be amortized over decades. For every dollar spent on fluoridation, families save up to $139.78 annually in avoided dental costs.
Eight Calgary city councillors should vote to reinstate fluoridation now. Calgarians would thank them for helping to keep residents healthy, while councillors bring Calgary back into the ranks of great cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney and Auckland, to name just some cities that fluoridate.
City councillors who accept the will of the people and the science to return our fluoridation would be public heroes. They would help Calgarians avoid dental care costs in a period of economic hardship. Now is the time to restore what has been lost.
With council’s leadership, dental decay and its pain, suffering and financial cost will decrease. There is no benefit to waiting until 2021 for yet another plebiscite. We know what Calgarians want. We have voted for fluoridation twice already.
Let’s respect democracy and promote good health for everyone by reinstating fluoridation now.
Juliet Guichon and Ian Mitchell are faculty members of the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary; Wendy Wadey and June Dabbagh are Calgary dentists; and Denise Kokaram leads the Alex Dental Health Bus. They all represent Calgarians for Kids’ Health.
*Original article online at https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-calgary-should-return-to-fluoridation-as-soon-as-possible