The province has put municipalities on notice that it doesn’t support any move to remove fluoride from tap water.
While a resolution — recently passed in the legislature with the support of all parties — is not binding, it doesn’t mean the vote has no teeth.
“I wanted this to be a much sharper resolution, to send even my own minister a very clear message that it is the will of the House, not once but twice … (to) move ahead with legislation that makes it mandatory — and that was, in fact, the opinion of the House,” MPP Bob Delaney said.
Peel Region, which encompasses his Mississauga—Streetsville riding, is now studying the issue, with some councillors pushing to eliminate fluoride.
Delaney said it’s been an issue in Peel for a few years and “it explodes from time to time” with “people bringing junk science” before local governments.
The evidence in support of fluoridation is “clear, comprehensive and conclusive,” he said.
The resolution states that the province update both the Fluoridation Act and the Ontario Municipal Act “that allow a municipality to either opt out of fluoridation of its drinking water, once the process has started, or to fail to start the fluoridation of municipal drinking water,” Delaney said in the legislature.
In addition, the province will work with cities and towns with funding to either begin or upgrade fluoridation systems “so that all Ontarians, to the fullest extent practicable,” have access to it.
But Brampton Councillor John Sprovieri, who also sits on Peel Region’s council and its water fluoridation review committee, doesn’t believe the provincial government is serious about fluoridation — it if was, he said, it would have taken a harder line.
He believes municipal governments lack the expertise to determine if fluoridation is warranted. He also provided research he’s seen that outlines a number of health risks and concerns, especially with exposure to fluoride over time. Plus, he said, with toothpaste, improved diets and better overall health, fluoridation is not necessary. Peel, he added, is facing a lawsuit should council retain the fluoride treatment.
The recent provincial resolution is the second time Delaney has brought on this issue. Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he and the province’s chief medical officer of health recently wrote to every local government and health officer across Ontario in support of fluoridation “whenever feasible because the science and evidence is obvious.”
Calling fluoridation “one of the great public-health breakthroughs of the last 100 years,” Hoskins said the government “will continue to look at opportunities and other measures we can take to provide this important public-health intervention to as many Ontarians as we can.”
Canadian cities began adding fluoride to water in 1945. While the mineral is naturally occurring, more is added to water supplies to bring it up to a level thought best to fight tooth decay and cavities. Some cities, such as Stratford, Ont., have enough naturally occurring fluoride that none is needed.
However, in recent years, some municipalities have ceased the practice, spurred by opponents who cite fears of dental fluorosis (staining or pitting from too much fluoride), as well as bone or neurological damage and cancer.
But Paul Andrews, a professor at the University of Toronto who is the graduate clinic director of pediatric dentistry, said anti-fluoride groups are “very active and they come very well prepared — but as with just about any topic, if you search long and hard enough on the Internet, you can find anything to support anything.”
He said their arguments are not based on sound science and noted more than 90 national and international scientific organizations support fluoridation, including Health Canada.
“Everyone is in complete support of fluoridation and the significant benefit it provides in particular to the people who need it most,” because it is easily accessible and there’s no out-of-pocket expense for families.
Communities that have removed fluoride have seen an increase in dental decay. In Moncton, N.B., dentists recently pleaded with the city to reverse its decision. In Calgary, where fluoride was removed in 2011, the rate of cavities in kids increased at a faster rate than in nearby Edmonton over a 10-year period.
“I feel the results are consistent with the results of stopping fluoride but there are (other) things going on as well,” said professor and researcher Lindsay McLaren of the University of Calgary.
She cautioned that some of the studies cited by the fluoride critics on are based on animals and also said dental fluorosis can’t happen given the level of fluoridation in Canada unless someone drinks excessive amounts of water all the time.
Mississauga East—Cooksville MPP Dipika Damerla said it’s worth keeping a close eye on happens in Peel, which would affect about a million residents. “Because it is such a large regional municipality, the rest of the province is looking at Peel as well,” she said in the legislature. “What Peel does could have a domino effect in terms of what other municipalities do.”
With files from Robert Benzie and The Canadian Press