A former alderman is calling on the city to “live up to its end of the fluoride bargain” and allocate funds to improve the dental health of poor children.
It’s been almost a year since council voted to stop adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water and use the $750,000 in annual savings to sponsor a program aimed at reducing tooth decay in thousands of kids living in poverty.
But so far not one dollar has gone toward addressing the issue, said former Ward 9 alderman Joe Ceci.
“We’re talking about the dental health of kids from low-income backgrounds. We already know they carry more cavities than other children. Fluoride in the water was one of the things that kept their teeth strong and hard,” he said.
A secret report into how the municipality should fund anti-cavity programs caused a stir in November when council refused to endorse it on the recommendation of a city committee.
Council has since asked for a new report – this one to be made public and with more options on how to prevent cavities in children.
But Ceci – now a co-ordinator with Action to End Poverty in Alberta – fears the issue will continue to drag on because no one at city hall is championing the cause.
“If there’s frustration, it’s around knowing that council takes a lot of time in making decisions,” he said.
Dr. Tobin Doty, former president of the Calgary and District Dental Society, is also concerned. He believes that supplemental fluoride programs will help maintain healthy teeth in a vulnerable population.
“We’re talking children in pain, children with infections. It can be horrible,” he said.
Alberta Health Services does offer a fluoride program for low-income children, including one that puts a type of fluoride “varnish” on the teeth of kids.
Dr. Richard Musto, the city’s medical officer, declined to weigh in on the matter Thursday but said he is looking forward to an update on how city hall intends to proceed.
Meanwhile, some aldermen wonder whether the city’s involvement is even necessary. Gael MacLeod – one of three aldermen who voted against removing fluoride from drinking water – believes it’s not the city’s role to fund public health.
“I would argue the provincial government has really dropped the ball on this. This is a public health issue. It’s not a municipal responsibility. And therein lies some of the challenges with reallocating the funding,” she said.