The councillor who led the charge to rid Calgary’s tap water of fluoride in 2011 defended the controversial decision despite a new study showing cavity among kids in this city increased at a higher rate than Edmonton in recent years.
“There could be a link, however, why then is tooth decay increasing throughout Canada and what are we doing as a society to address this,” said Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell.
“It’s over-simplified to think that fluoride is the silver bullet and it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to look at issues of poverty, access to dental care, access to a healthy diet and lack of equity,” Farrell said.
The study — a joint effort by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services — shows tooth decay rates increased in both major cities and that overall numbers remain higher in Edmonton, where they continue to put fluoride in the water.
The study’s researchers looked for signs of decay during mouth exams of roughly 5,000 Grade 2 students. Both cities saw increased rates of tooth deterioration compared to an early study in 2004-05, but the number increased at a higher rate in Calgary, with an average of 3.8 surfaces to Edmonton’s 2.1.
Health experts who warned council in 2011 against removing the enamel-building mineral touted the new report as evidence Calgary’s children are now paying the price for a political decision that was based more on ideology than scientific evidence.
Council did set aside $750,000 in one-time funding for anti-cavity programs targeting kids who are living in poverty. That money was shared between the Alex Community Health Centre and Calgary Urban Project Society.
Denise Kokaram, program lead for the Alex Dental Health Bus, said she’d like to see city council revisit the issue and reverse course because community fluoridation is the best way to treat the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
“When you weigh it against science, and not even new research but research done over the years, it’s pretty clear,” said Kokaram, adding the severity of tooth decay and oral health problems appears to be increasing in both kids and older populations.
“I really hope they revisit the issue of water fluoridation,” she said. “I know it’s been a hotbed of contention. What I’ve been seeing across the country, they’ve been going, ‘Yes, this is great.’ It is coming up before a lot of communities.”
But councillors say it’s a public health issue that the provincial government, not municipalities, need to address.
“Ultimately, it’s not our responsibility,” said Coun. Andre Chabot. “If they want us to do more and give us less then I have to say no. There’s this constant expectation that (the city) will do more and with no expectation on delivering in the financial side of it.”
The Alberta Dental Association and College, which both lobbies for and regulates the province’s $1.5-billion industry, stopped publishing a suggested fee guide in 1997 over arguments the listing was actually discouraging competition among practitioners.
Albertans pay some of the highest dental fees in the country. It’s an issue Farrell says the province needs to address if it’s serious about dealing with dental health for kids and other vulnerable populations.
“The minute the city fluoridated (the water) the province abdicated their responsibility,” said Farrell. “It may be a flash point for changes in dental equity.”
With files from Val Fortney, Calgary Herald