The rising number of local oral healthcare issues including cavities has prompted the Windsor-Essex Health Unit board to unanimously approve a four-point plan that includes reintroducing fluoride into Windsor’s drinking water.
The city opted to remove fluoride from its drinking water in 2013 with the proviso of revisiting the issue after five years. The decision also impacted Tecumseh and LaSalle, which buy their water from the city.
“There’s a pattern of worsening oral healthcare in this community form 2011 to 2016,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the health unit’s acting medical officer of health.
“We hope the decision makers in the community, when they read this report, will respond carefully to the challenge facing us a community.”
According to the 2018 Oral Healthcare Update, the number of visits by area residents for day surgeries, cavities and tooth decay issues is about 300 per cent higher than the provincial average.
“That’s not all down to just a single cause, such as not fluoridating the water,” Ahmed said.
“But fluoride is a piece of it and these trends have gone in the wrong direction since 2013.”
The update also shows a 51 per cent rise over five years in the percentage of children with cavities or requiring other urgent oral care, caught during annual screenings of children at area schools.
Ahmed said he knows fluoridation will be the lightening rod in the discussion, but the update also points to other areas requiring attention including:
- Continued support for oral health education and awareness
- Improved access to oral health services
- Lobbying for improved funding and expansion of public dental programs such as Health Smiles Ontario
The next step is to present the findings to the Windsor and County of Essex councils in the coming weeks.
The study has put a particular focus on data from the health unit’s school dentistry program that examines virtually all students in junior and senior kindergarten and Grade 2.
Ahmed said the average number of cavities/decay per student had risen in all three grades since 2011.
Junior kindergarten students went from an average of 0.7 to 1.1 cavities, senior kindergarten students went from 1.3 to 1.9, while Grade 2s increased from 2.2 to 2.6.
“I supported the plan because it fulfilled a promise to re-visit this issue after five years,” said Windsor councillor Bill Marra, who voted in 2013 to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water.
“I’m open-minded on this. I think it could also become an election issue.”
Marra feels having extensive local data will better equip council to make a well-informed decision.
“I don’t think the focus is going to be just on fluoridation with this plan, it’s going to be on overall oral healthcare,” Marra said. “Having this local data, I think will shift the conversation.”
Councillor Paul Borrelli, who is also on the health unit board along with councillors Hillary Payne and Ed Sleiman, is a supporter of fluoridation.
“It’s used around the world,” Borrelli said. “The positive aspects overwhelm any negatives that may exist if its used at the proper levels.”
For the local safe drinking water group Fluoride Free Windsor, the evidence for banning fluoride is even more compelling than five years ago.
“The health unit’s decision to bring this back up again isn’t a surprise,” said Donna Mayne, who campaigned with the group against fluoridation in 2013.
“We completely agree with the rest of the plan, we just don’t believe fluoridation has been proven effective for everyone. It’s especially bad for those with a weakened immune system and kidney or thyroid issues.”
Mayne said a more effective and safer approach involves education, proper dental routine and accessibility to dental care.
Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara, chair of the health unit’s board, said oral healthcare in the community has worsened across all socio-economic categories.
“Even among people who would be considered in an affluent socio-economic grouping, who could afford dental services, the trend is worsening,” McNamara said.
“It’s not just a socio-economic issue. That’s why we need the broader approach of the plan the health unit has put forth.”
Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said his town, which doesn’t fluoridate its water, is always willing to listen to anything that would improve healthcare.
However, there’s no plan to raise the issue currently.
“We’d need to see a report on the benefits to the Town of Amherstburg,” DiCarlo said.
“How many people are still drinking tap water instead of bottled water? We would have to invest in equipment, so there’s a cost.
“It’s a discussion that’s not as simple as people think it is.”
*Original article online at http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/health-units-oral-healthcare-plan-includes-return-of-fluoridation