Concerned about the rising incidence of tooth decay since fluoride was removed from Calgary’s drinking water, a local charity and public schools are ramping up efforts to combat cavities.

While Brushing for Brightness has distributed toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss annually since council cancelled fluoridation in 2011, the number of kids to be helped this year has jumped to 12,500 from the previous year’s 8,000.

“This has taken such a positive leap forward. I think it’s really making a difference,” said pediatric dentist Dr. Sarah Holland who founded the effort six years ago.

“I started this, knowing we absolutely had to do something for the children,” she added.

“But in the last few years, I’m seeing more younger children than ever with significant issues — a higher concentration of really young kids who have so many cavities you’d have to put them under a general anaesthetic to deal with all of it.”

Even children who make brushing a priority, Hulland added, are showing increased signs of tooth decay, simply because of lifestyle change and a lack of fluoride.

“We’ve become a snacking culture. We’re super busy with kids, trying to get from here to there, and there isn’t always time.

“But with fluoride, you can reduce the incidence of cavities. It isn’t a panacea. It will never eradicate all tooth decay. But it is beneficial in low-dose, frequent applications, like in our water.”

After Wednesday’s event, CBE officials will ensure the dental health packs are distributed to more than 50 designated schools ready for this fall, mainly in areas where students may be vulnerable or at risk of not brushing regularly.

Paul Kerber, CBE specialist of corporate partnerships, said the feedback from schools and principals has made it clear the need is growing.

“I hear about that need all the time, particularly from families new to Canada, like Syrian refugees. We know that if they’ve been in a war-torn country, dental health is not a priority.

“If a student isn’t happy and healthy, they aren’t ready to learn, and we need to ensure students are always ready to learn.”

Hulland says she too has received positive feedback from schools and principals about the program.

She remembers a letter she received from a school about three years ago, when staff found a Grade 2 student crying outside, soon after “Brushing for Brightness” packages were handed out.

When teachers spoke with him, they realized he was overwhelmed with joy as he told them it was the first time he had ever owned a toothbrush.

“That story still gets to me. To know that in this day and age, in this city, there are still kids in Grade 2 who have never yet brushed their teeth. How is that possible?”

Hulland added many other pediatric dentists have shared similar concerns at local dentistry meetings, she added, with hopes that city council may revisit the fluoride issue, possibly after the fall election.

Last year, a joint study conducted by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services looked for signs of tooth decay during dental exams of roughly 5,000 Grade 2 students in Calgary and Edmonton.

Research showed both cities saw increased rates of tooth deterioration compared to an earlier study, but the number increased at a higher rate in Calgary.

Note from Fluoride Action Network:
We found that the Calgary fluoride study by McLaren et al. fatally flawed as key data was omitted. Sadly, the Canadian press has failed to report this. Read more here

After the findings were released, Calgary’s medical health officer asked council to reconsider its decision to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water supply.

“I feared that this could happen, but I couldn’t say confidently back in 2011 that it was going to happen. But it’s clear,” said Dr. Richard Musto, Alberta Health Service’s lead medical officer for the Calgary Zone.

“I’m sorry that so many children had to suffer from dental caries during this time period.”

Researchers suggested the disparity between the two cities was likely due to Calgary council’s decision to scrap community water treatment in 2011 despite there being no expert panel consultation or public vote on the issue.

Coun. Andre Chabot told Postmedia Wednesday he’s still not interested in revisiting the issue.

“Fluoride is a toxic substance, our staff have to wear haz mat suits to put it into the water.”

But Hulland stressed that at the correct dilution, fluoride is not toxic, and can have huge dental health benefits.

*Original article online at