For Allison Whyte, getting fluoride out of drinking water is a personal matter.
The 53-year-old’s two daughters developed fluorosis – a mottling of the teeth caused by excessive fluoride – when they were 10 and 12 years old.
Her solution: get rid of the controversial chemical.
“I got Culligan water, I didn’t have fluoride treatments at the dentist, I didn’t have fluoride toothpaste, there was no fluoride at all,” said Whyte, one of 26 people who stepped to the microphone to speak at a public meeting about fluoride in local drinking water Tuesday at Sarnia city hall.
Council is preparing to vote June 24 on whether to keep fluoride in local drinking water – introduced in the 1960s to help prevent tooth decay.
Advocates and opponents of the current 0.7-parts-per-million fluoride level in municipal taps cited scores of studies on both sides of the issue throughout the two-and-a-half hour meeting, with about 60 people in attendance.
For Whyte, her experience is what makes the difference: her daughters’ teeth returned to normal after 12 years without fluoride, she said.
“I think first do no harm,” she said, noting she has concerns about what maladies fluoridated drinking water might cause, and says there’s no definitive proof of its benefits.
“They shouldn’t be medicating water,” she said.
The Sarnia woman’s views were echoed by two thirds of the speakers at the open house.
“In a just and fair society, the decision to medicate ourselves with fluoride should reside with the individual,” said Sarnia resident Zak Nicholls.
Canada’s Chief Dental Officer Peter Cooney defended fluoridated water and spent part of his five-minute allotment describing how dental disease is the number one chronic disease among children and adolescents in Canada.
“It is critically important to reduce dental disease,” he said.
There is no conclusive evidence fluoride causes bone fractures or other diseases sometimes linked to its consumption, he said.
Hydrofluorosilicic acid, the chemical added to water for the Lambton Area Water Supply System (LAWSS)’s six municipalities – Lambton Shores, Warwick Township, St. Clair Township, Plympton-Wyoming, Sarnia, and Point Edward – breaks down into fluoride, hydrogen and another element when added to the water supply, he said.
Those LAWSS municipalities have equal say in whether fluoride stays and LAWSS replaces its aging $300,000 fluoridation system, or goes – even though Sarnia consumes 70% of the area’s water. Typically the city has five votes, but fluoride votes are an exception, LAWSS officials have said.
Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton County’s medical officer of health, has said fluoride added to drinking water at the proper rate is safe and doesn’t cause adverse effects.
Other fluoride proponents at the meeting included representatives from the Ontario Association for Public Health Dentistry, the Lambton Dental Hygienist Society, the Lambton County Dental Society, and the Ontario Dental Association.
Cooney said every dollar spent on fluoridation saves $38 in dental care costs.
More than 90 professional health organizations, including Health Canada, support current fluoride levels in water.
City councillors Mike Kelch and Andy Bruziewicz attended the meeting, and several speakers were critical that the mayor and other council members weren’t present.
Sarnia’s last vote on fluoridated water was in 2010 and ended in a tie. Kelch was absent, but has recently said he is opposed to fluoridated water.
City engineer Andre Morin said all information at the meeting will be submitted to council members so they can make an informed decision.
The deadline to submit information on the issue is Friday. Written materials can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.