Eight years after Calgary officials elected to discontinue water fluoridation, city council revisited the issue with the release of a new expert report on the benefits and harms of fluoridation and a heated debate at city hall Tuesday.
A steady stream of public health experts, researchers, medical doctors and members of the public took turns at the microphone late into the evening, urging council members either to reintroduce fluoridation or keep it out.
One Calgary dentist, who volunteers at free dental clinics, called on council members to re-institute fluoridation and shared her experience with child patients from low-income families who are more likely to suffer from dental caries.
“Every child that came in was in pain, had infection and was crying,” said Dr. Wendy Street-Wadey. “That affects you as an individual, especially knowing that all we could do was take care of their worst cavities first and then they go back on a wait list for who knows how long.”
The debate, which began in council chambers, at one point spilled into the hallway at city hall as critics and proponents took verbal swipes at each other during a break from the meeting.
A spokesman for Safe Water Calgary, an anti-fluoridation group, criticized evidence presented by the University of Calgary’s public health experts, suggesting that children living in communities with fluoridation had an average 1.2 fewer permanent teeth with tooth decay.
“This is not safe, it’s not effective. It’s not moral or ethical,” said Dr. Robert Dickson, a family doctor in northwest Calgary. “Are you going to affect a kid’s brain, their thyroid, their bones, even their teeth with fluorosis — to save one half of one cavity in their lifetime? I think not.”
Dickson and other anti-fluoride advocates wound up sparring with proponents of fluoridation during a chaotic media scrum with reporters.
“That’s fake evidence,” shouted Juliet Guichon, with Calgarians For Kids’ Health, in response to comments made by prominent fluoridation critic Paul Connett. Connett roared back: “The people that are promoting fluoridation are behaving like propagandists.”
Committee members heard from local health experts who pointed to data suggesting Calgary has seen more children visiting emergency departments for dental concerns and a 700 per cent increase in dental infections requiring IV antibiotics at the Alberta Children’s Hospital since 2011, when fluoridation was discontinued.
“Based on the entirety of the existing body of evidence, Alberta Health Service would be recommending the city consider re-instituting community water fluoridation,” said Dr. David Strong, a provincial medical officer of health with AHS.
“Fluoride is already in Calgary drinking water, but it is on average on a level that doesn’t protect against cavities. So reinstating community fluoridation would in essence just bring our water up to that protected level.”
Despite the passionate entreaties of experts and advocates, the city acknowledged there currently isn’t money available for further work on the feasibility or implementation of water fluoridation — or any other dental health initiatives at the municipal level.
Previous estimates from the city suggest it could cost around $6 million to upgrade water treatment plants to return fluoridation to Calgary’s drinking water supply.
While no decision was expected from the meeting, the committee said the U of C’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health report and public commentary would be received “for the public record.”
Committee chair Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said if the province were to take responsibility for paying for fluoridation, “it would be a done deal.”
“In the absence of that, or a government taking their responsibility for that issue, it becomes a little bit more complex,” he said.
*Original article online at https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/fluoride-debate-at-city-hall-spills-outside-of-chamber