OWEN SOUND – Medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn will deliver a simple message at a public meeting on fluoridating Owen Sound’s drinking water — those living in poverty will suffer if fluoridation ends.
“We know that fluoride improves children’s teeth,” Lynn said after Friday’s board of health meeting. “The top 20% of the population usually have (dental) benefits, so their kids see dentists regularly, they can afford toothbrushes and toothpaste. The bottom 20% can’t, so those are the ones who suffer a huge amount of dental decay because they just don’t have the money to buy and look after their kids’ teeth.”
Lynn calls it “a health equity issue. The people that lose when you take out fluoride are the people that can least afford to.”
City council agreed earlier this month to call a public meeting on the issue. At that meeting, city staff is expected to report on why more Ontario municipalities lately have been dropping fluoride from their water, such as the city of Windsor earlier this year. Lynn will also speak, and she’s putting together a health unit committee to draw up the evidence to support continued water fluoridation.
“Hopefully we’ll get the information out, new and modern information, and the evidence on the importance, particularly for people of low incomes’ teeth, and hopefully people will make a good decision,” Lynn said.
She’ll compare tooth decay rates among children from Owen Sound versus children in other Grey-Bruce communities that don’t fluoridate their water. Owen Sound is the only community in the two counties that adds fluoride to its drinking water supply. Huron-Kinloss’s municipal supply has natural amounts of fluoride in it.
Lynn will also quote from recent studies, including a 2013 study from the Wellesley Institute — a Toronto-based non-profit research and policy institute — called “The Real Cost of Removing Water Fluoridation.”
The study calls on municipalities to continue using fluoride, or to start using it in drinking water if they don’t already. It says the removal of water fluoridation is particularly damaging for health-disadvantaged populations and will worsen oral health inequities. Seniors and children benefit most from fluoride, the report says. The report also notes that a 2004 Canadian study concluded that every dollar invested in water fluoridation saves approximately $38 in dental treatment costs.
The Wellesley report acknowledges that there are studies out there linking water fluoridation to negative effects such as lower IQ levels, cancer, and bone problems, but “these findings are seen to be scientifically unsound and arising from low-quality methodology,” the report says.
Lynn said tooth decay rates have been dropping among people who can afford proper dental care, whether they drinking fluoridated water or not. “It’s the poor people’s teeth that get worse and worse,” she said.
Owen Sound has been adding fluoride to its water supply since 1965. A plebiscite on the issue was held in 1997, with electors voting 4,633 to 3,097 in favour of keeping it. Since that referendum upheld the practice, another plebiscite is needed before fluoridation can be stopped. In 2011, city council voted to begin a public process to review fluoridation in the water supply.
Coun. Arlene Wright, who also sits on the Grey Bruce Board of Health, said she hasn’t heard much concern about fluoridation, and supports keeping it.
“I do believe that fluoridation does preserve teeth,” she said. “And I think that Dr. Lynn has proven through our statistics that the areas in our county that do not have fluoridation in their water, either natural or put in like the city, do have a more difficult time with their teeth than other people.”
But if people do have concerns, she said the city should hear about them. She said a public meeting date has not been set.
Lynn said she has “a bit of a problem with very important, to me, public health policy being left to a plebiscite. However, that’s the way it is, and it is helpful for people to understand why we’re doing this and why I think it’s really really important.”
She also worries that there is a silent majority that will not be heard on the issue.
“When you look at how good kids’ teeth are in Owen Sound, that silent majority should take a look at that and say yeah, my kids have had this benefit, and I want it for everybody,” Lynn said.
Council can vote to hold a plebiscite in 2014, but it must approve the bylaw by April 30. A referendum can also be triggered if a petition is started and signed by 10% of voters by June 1.