Calgary dentists and fluoride activists are calling on city officials to expedite the release of a cost analysis report on water fluoridation delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue of reintroducing fluoride to Calgary water has been made even more urgent because the pandemic has kept many from receiving routine dental care, according to Alberta Dental Association and College president Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky. He says children and seniors are most at risk.
“Prior to the pandemic, two-thirds of the day surgeries at the Children’s Hospital in Calgary were dental-related. Then we get to the pandemic and all that elective surgery has shut down. The backlog now is beyond control,” said Yaholnitsky, who runs a dental practice in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood.
“If we had had some fluoride, would it have eliminated it? No. But would it have reduced that issue? Definitely.”
In October 2019, a city council committee recommended that council direct city administrators to produce a cost analysis report on reintroducing fluoride, with the report due to the priorities and finance committee by June 30.
The release of that report, as well as all others due in the first two quarters of 2020, was delayed in March after city council voted to defer much of its scheduled business due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a city spokesperson, the fluoride report will now go to the priorities and finance committee Dec. 1.
Multiple city councillors did not immediately return requests for comment from Postmedia, including Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, who in 2019 introduced the motion that reopened discussion on fluoridation at city hall.
The delayed report is the latest development in Calgary’s decades-long debate on fluoridation. The city first began to add fluoride to drinking water in 1991, but the practice was discontinued after a council vote in 2011. Two plebiscites, held in 1989 and 1999, saw Calgarians vote in favour of fluoridation.
Juliet Guichon, president of the Calgarians For Kids’ Health activist group, said December is too long to wait to see the results of the report.
“This is not a file that they can let fall off the table. This is a priority matter,” Guichon said.
“People from all walks of life in Calgary are suffering unnecessarily from the unwarranted removal of this public health protection.”
She pointed to support of the practice from Canadian public-health officials and groups such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as evidence that fluoride is safe and effective.
Yaholnitsky said it’s important action is taken soon on fluoridation, in case a second wave of COVID-19 further limits access to dental care, saying fluoride is a proven preventive measure.
“I understand the dilemma, that city council went to administration and asked what they could put on the back burner, because it’s not business as usual,” he said. “But I think it needs to be looked at much more critically.”
The dentist said the science around fluoridation shows the practice is safe as long as the concentration of fluoride is kept at about 0.7 parts per million. Currently, without additional fluoridation, Calgary’s fluoride levels range from about 0.25 to 0.4 parts per million.
“We’ve seen consistently that it’s able to lower the level of tooth decay in the population,” Yaholnitsky said.