The residents of Waterloo have an interesting and complex question ahead of them. They will have to decide whether they want their city to continue adding fluoride to their water.
This isn’t the first time that Waterloo has looked at this question. Far from it. The city has looked at it four times since 1967.
The last time was during the 1982 municipal election. At that time, 59 per cent of voters wanted Waterloo to keep putting fluoride in water. As a result, fluoride has remained in the city’s water pipes.
That was, however, more than 25 years ago. The opponents of fluoridation are entitled to bring forward their case again. Presumably, there have been more studies done on this subject since 1982.
Waterloo councillors decided at their meeting this week to put the fluoride question on the ballot in the next municipal election, to be held in 2010.
There clearly are two different schools of thought on this issue.
The case for fluoridation has the support of significant and high-profile organizations, including the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization. They argue that fluoride reduces the likelihood of cavities in teeth.
But there is a small but vocal set of critics who argue that fluoride may have serious health consequences for some people.
Among the critics is Mitra Doherty, a Waterloo dentist. In general terms, the critics contend that fluoride may cause medical problems such as cancer, fluorosis, hip fractures and suppressed thyroid function. Those are serious allegations.
Considering that fluoride has been in various municipal water pipes for some time, the surprise is that those interested in the subject haven’t come to a consensus by this time. Both sides can’t be right.
Fortunately, Waterloo council has given the city’s residents a long time to get ready for this vote. This is good. Proponents and opponents of fluoride have several years to gather and present their arguments.
The goal now should be to have a fair, balanced discussion of the facts. The debate, although for the benefit of lay people, should be scientific in nature: What is the scientific evidence of the two sides? Why can’t they at least agree on the basic facts, even if they offer different interpretations of those facts? What alternatives would be available for those who want to have fluoride-strengthened teeth if, as is possible, the city’s residents vote against fluoridation?
The public discussion could take several forms, including public meetings, discussions in the media as well as the distribution of brochures.
One point may be made with certainty already: Waterloo residents are going to have a stimulating election in 2010.