Calgary children are paying a price for city council’s decision to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. It’s an unfortunate outcome that Alberta Health Services and many dentists predicted in 2011: that children’s dental health would deteriorate without the presence of the cavity fighter.
City dentists reported greater rates of tooth decay two years ago, and now a new study finds that the teeth of Calgary children are in poorer condition than those who live in Edmonton, which continues to fluoridate its water.
“Our results show that even after a relatively short period of time, we have seen a negative effect of removing fluoride from the drinking water,” says Lindsay McLaren, a public health researcher at the University of Calgary and the study’s lead author.
The study involved open mouth exams of approximately 5,000 Grade 2 pupils in the two cities. Because similar inspections took place in 2004-05, researchers were able to compare the rates of decay. Neither of the cities fared particularly well, but the number of tooth surfaces with decay in Calgary pupils increased by a greater amount than for those in Edmonton.
Poor nutrition is also cited as a cause of tooth decay, but it’s evident that city council’s divisive vote to stop adding fluoride to our water has had consequences. Given how split Calgarians are on the issue, it’s too early to revisit the decision, which was expected to result in $750,000 in annual savings. The first year’s savings were dedicated to improving the dental health of children living in poverty. At a minimum, the city should revive its support for the anti-cavity programs operated by the Alex Community Health Centre and Calgary Urban Project Society. It can also promote topical applications of fluoride to teeth.
The city should also carefully consider the results of this and future studies, especially since it’s not just children who are at risk, but seniors and other vulnerable Calgarians. It’s one thing to accept the argument that imposing mass fluoridation on an entire population is ethically questionable, but some regard must be given to the dental health of Calgarians.
Parents, meanwhile, should talk with their children’s dentist to ensure their family members have the best chance of warding off tooth decay. Ostensibly, these are teeth that are going to have to last them all of their lives. The rest of us should also make certain we’re doing all we can to protect our teeth.
Some people will dismiss this week’s dental health findings but, for others, it will serve as confirmation of the benefits of fluoridation.