CALGARY – With doctors touting research to promote fluoridation and a few dozen citizens touting research against fluoridation, a council committee voted to end Calgary’s use of the tooth decay-fighting additive and paved the way for a final decision next month.
Only five aldermen sat through to the end of a 10 -hour public hearing Wednesday on the ills and benefits of fluoride-treated water, voting 4-1 to scrap the chemical.
Since six additional aldermen have declared their belief in the anti-fluoride movement, it appears that side will win on Feb. 7, unless Mayor Naheed Nenshi and some colleagues can successfully push for further study of the issue.
University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine has offered to strike an advisory panel to review the various arguments and systematic studies about fluoridation.
“It’s more of a review of some of the key literature in the area, some of the big points, and then trying to address some of the criticisms that are there,” said Dr. Bill Ghali, scientific director of the school’s public health institute.
“Because there are obviously opponents of fluoridation who aren’t completely out in left field – they’re coming with some of the scientific concerns that have been raised. So we would try in a balanced way to review that.”
Nenshi, who was in Regina and missed the hearing, told the Herald he thinks that’s an “excellent” idea.
That small committee group shot it down Wednesday evening, but at least one of the opponents, Ald. Peter Demong, said it should be reconsidered at council.
Ald. Druh Farrell, who has led the anti-fluoridation push on council, argued that so much of the issue comes down to the ethics of it – that people should have a choice whether something is added to water for health reasons.
Many Calgarians “have a fear, whether it’s based in reality or not,” she said.
Calgarians offered dire warnings, ethical arguments and scientific rationales on either side of the fractious issue.
Colleen Cran, a former dental assistant, said her child took fluoride supplements and suffered fluorosis (or spotting) on his teeth.
“It’s just not reducing tooth decay, and it’s just causing great harm to our kids, to our teeth, to our health and to our environment,” she said outside council chambers.
Jeanette Boyd, a mother from Vancouver – where water isn’t fluoridated – told council she stopped giving the supplement and discovered her kid had a mouthful of rotten teeth.
In Calgary, a plebiscite brought in fluoridation in 1991. The compound is now added to city water at 0.7 parts per million.
While the only fluoride opponent claiming authority was an author who took interest in the issue after his medical and academic career, the vast majority of fluoridation advocates were doctors and medical officials, mainly from Alberta Health Services.
“Madame Farrell, the jury is in,” Dr. David Keegan, a family physician who teaches at the U of C, said in response to the aldermen’s suggestion that the scientific community was split on fluoridation’s effectiveness.
Dr. Luke Shwart, the superboard’s dental public health officer, said the best systematic reviews point to great benefits from fluoridation. In one such study in Britain, areas with fluoridated water had 15 per cent more children without tooth decay than areas without it.
“By fluoridating, the community says it respects the dental health of its residents,” he said.
At the same time, AHS officials, including Dr. Richard Musto, cautioned aldermen not to believe simple comparisons, like the minimal tooth-decay differences in Ontario (which mainly fluoridates) and Quebec (which mainly doesn’t).
“It’s not a facile either/or,” he said, noting that systematic reviews weed out studies that lack proper methodology or don’t consider all the factors.
Critics, however, offered up their own reasons: about how fluoride is an industrial byproduct, or a potential poison whose intake levels medical officials don’t track among the dosed population.
One resident, John Chan, argued that doctors were on the edge of “malpractice” by ignoring anti-fluoride literature.
“A lot of people are going towards the anti camp,” Demong said. “And I have yet to witness one person who has been anti and said, ‘Oh no, I do think this is a good idea.'”
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