Two communities in the west end of Elgin County have opted to stop adding fluoride to their municipal drinking water. The decision by the municipalities of Dutton-Dunwich and West Elgin means fluoridation will end in about a month when the supply of the chemical runs out.
Fluoride has been added to municipal water supplies for decades to prevent tooth decay.
Although critics have raised health concerns, fluoride is hailed by dental associations and public health officials as a cheap, safe way to improve dental health for children and adults.
The decision by Dutton-Dunwich and West Elgin to stop using it is mainly an issue of cost, said West Elgin administrator Joanne Groch.
The water system faced a provincial edict to build a separate building to handle fluoride because of health and safety concerns.
The cost of the building would have been more than $100,000 and there would have been continuing operating costs of $12,000 to $15,000 a year, Groch said.
The water system board also considered the fact there is natural fluoride in the water supply and the chemical is added to tooth paste and used in dental treatments, she said.
The decision of many European countries to stop using fluoride because of health concerns also was a factor, Groch said.
The water system draws its water from Lake Erie and distributes it from a pumping station in West Elgin.
Besides West Elgin and Dutton-Dunwich, the system distributes water to customers in Southwest Middlesex and Newbury and as far as Bothwell in Chatham-Kent.
The decision to stop using fluoride required passage of bylaws by Dutton-Dunwich and West Elgin to meet provisions of the Fluoridation Act.
Under the act, the original decision to fluoridate was made in the 1970s by the municipalities of Rodney, West Lorne and Dutton.
West Lorne and Rodney are now part of West Elgin.
The decision to end fluoridation will be discussed by the board of the Elgin-St. Thomas Health Unit later this month.
“Hopefully, we’ll be getting some direction on how we should proceed,” said Carolyn Kuntz, director of health promotion.
She said fluoride wouldn’t be needed in the water supply if people brushed their teeth twice a day as recommended, flossed their teeth, went to the dentist regularly and ate properly.
Since people don’t all do that, fluoride is deemed the most cost-effective way of preventing tooth decay in the wider population, Kuntz said.