SYDNEY — Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer is working with the provincial dental association and dentists in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to build a case in favour of keeping fluoride in the municipal water supply.

“It comes down really to the balance of choice and individual rights and doing what’s best for the collective whole,” Dr. Robert Strang said from Halifax, Thursday.

“In certain circumstances, including water fluoridation, I think particularly from a public health perspective that because of the benefits to the entire population … the value for the collective whole outweighs the individual choice.”

He said fluoride is the most effective way to reach the entire population, including many who may not have access to regular dental care due to economic barriers.

On Tuesday, community activist Marlene Kane requested Cape Breton regional council stop the practice of fluoridating the water in Sydney, Glace Bay, North Sydney and New Waterford.

Kane said an overexposure of fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, which leaves pits and white marks on teeth.

“We hear that fluoride is naturally occurring in the environment. That sounds reassuring but lead and arsenic are naturally occurring too,” she told council Tuesday.

“Fluoride is more toxic than lead, according to the U.S. EPA (environmental protection agency), and slightly less toxic than arsenic, yet we’re adding fluoride to the drinking water where we wouldn’t be allowed to add either lead or arsenic because of its toxicity.”

Dental fluorosis is uncommon and rates of fluorosis are declining across the country, Strang said.

He said mild dental fluorosis, which he considered to be a “cosmetic issue,” has been largely seen in the immigrant population.

The anti-fluoridation camp also view water fluoridation as a “medication” thrust upon the entire population.

Strang said it’s not correct to call fluoride a medication, but a chemical used in low doses as a preventative measure against tooth decay.

“It’s very easy to pull out a single study, or part of a study, and say, ‘Yeah, here’s the evidence that it’s unsafe.’ But if you look at the total weight, it’s very clear that there is no known human health risk at the levels of fluoride that are recommended in drinking water,” he said.

Cape Breton regional council will take two months to further study the use of fluoride in CBRM’s four largest water systems. Smaller municipal water systems in Louisbourg, Donkin, Port Morien and Birch Grove are fluoride free.

Council will be speaking to officials with the Cape Breton District Health Authority and local dentists before making a decision on the issue.

A couple of councillors came out in favour of removing the chemical from the water supply, but others were more hesitant.

“I didn’t know much about the background so I asked a couple of local dentists in the area. To be honest, they shuttered at the fact that I was even going to be voting on stopping this,” Coun. George MacDonald said.

The debate on water fluoridation made its way back into the headlines after Calgary’s city council voted 10-3 last month to stop the practice of fluoridating its water supply, despite the objections from the city’s chief medical officer.