A worldwide fluoride shortage could reignite a decades-old debate on whether the City of Calgary should keep adding the chemical to its water supply.
Civic officials have said they will know within two months if the global shortage will affect Calgary’s supply, as the City of Ottawa goes without the cavity-fighting fluoride for extended periods and Edmonton officials warn they could run out this fall.
While Calgary still has enough, the potential shortage has some city council members suggesting it’s time to take another look at the issue.
“I’m a big believer that we don’t need it,” said Ald. Craig Burrows. “Quite frankly, I certainly support getting rid of fluoride in the water.”
Ald. Druh Farrell said she has also never been a supporter of fluoride.
“It’s always important to keep up-to-date on the issue,” she said last week. “I wouldn’t shy away from opening the debate again.”
Farrell said evidence shows hygiene and diet have more of an impact on dental health.
But other aldermen said there’s no need to revisit the issue.
“It’s a debate I do not want to get into,” said Ald. Gord Lowe. “As far as I am concerned, the decision from the last plebiscite was to continue putting fluoride in the water, and I haven’t seen anything to suggest that we stop doing that. We have our direction from the public.”
The City of Calgary started adding fluoride to its municipal water supply in 1991 after a plebiscite in the 1989 election saw 53 per cent of voters in favour of using the chemical.
Another plebiscite during the 1998 municipal election endorsed fluoridation by 55 per cent.
Calgary adds about 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per litre to its tap water.
It’s too late to add another plebiscite on the Oct. 15 election ballot, but some aldermen said it may be time to review the latest information on the topic later this fall.
“We definitely need the most up-to-date medical and scientific information,” said Ald. Madeleine King. “We should be basing current decisions on that information and not on what was current some years ago.”
King, who said she has tried to reopen the debate, said it’s been difficult to change some of her council colleagues’ minds on taking another look at the issue.
“There is a belief that since it was decided by a plebiscite, maybe it can only be changed by a plebiscite,” she said. “It’s a really good reason for not doing plebiscites.”
Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart said she doesn’t think city council would need another plebiscite to revisit the debate at one of its standing policy committees.
“At the very least, what we can direct is that we ask administration to come back with a report on really the very latest research on weighing the pros and cons,” she said, noting she is less convinced that fluoridation is necessary in the tap water.
Fluoridation has long been promoted by dentists — and the Canadian Dental Association — as a cost-effective and far-reaching way to prevent tooth decay in the public.
According to Health Canada, many studies show fluoridated water reduces the number of cavities in children’s teeth.
However, the practice has also had its share of detractors.
The Fluoride Action Network issued a statement earlier this month signed by more than 600 professionals — including more than 100 dentists — calling for an end to water fluoridation. They said that while using fluoride in toothpaste is effective in preventing tooth decay, putting it in the water supply has shown minimal benefits.
Dr. James Beck, a biophysicist and medical ethicist with the University of Calgary, said he has also become convinced adding fluoride to the drinking water is unnecessary.
“Even if it were effective . . . it’s still medically unethical the way its done,” Beck said. “So the conclusion I’ve come to, for me, is clear and strong: we should stop it.
“Judging from the evidence that we have, stopping it won’t hurt us.”
About 40 per cent of Canadians receive fluoridated water.