Aberta Health Services is pushing to bring fluoride back to the Okotoks water supply, but town councillors are asking for more information before they make a decision.
Drinking water in Okotoks has been fluoride-free since 2012, when Council chose to redirect the $8,000 it cost to fluoridate toward a preschool oral health program.
In a report to council last month, AHS noted oral health programs appear successful but it ultimately recommended the Town reinstate flouridation.
On Monday, council decided to continue to support the preschool oral health program, launched in January 2013 to offer fluoride varnish for children aged 12 to 35 months.
Coun. Tanya Thorn said the current program is important to support in the short term, but she would like to revisit the issue when a University of Calgary study of the effects of similar programs in Calgary is completed.
“Looking at timelines I think we need to move ahead right now to budget for supporting the program as it exists, but address it when the study comes out,” said Thorn.
According to Okotoks community wellness manager Debbie Posey, the U of C report should be released in the next six months and include data from dental professionals in the Calgary region.
At least one Okotoks councillor wants fluoride put back in Okotoks’ drinking water.
Coun. Carrie Fischer does not believe the current preschool oral health program is effective at protecting all children.
“I think it’s pretty clear from what we’ve heard from Alberta Health Services that they have great concern about the lack of fluoridation being provided to the children in the community,” said Fischer. “I just don’t think we’re doing a good job with this program in reaching all of the children who are vulnerable.”
According to preschool oral health program statistics, 201 of a possible 248 monthly appointments were attended between January 2013 and July 2015. In a population of over 28,000 that number seems low, said Fischer.
With stern warnings of the importance of fluoride in water from AHS, the issue warrants more research and more consideration, she said.
Fischer would like to see what the dental community has noticed since fluoride was removed from the water, including how children under three are affected without having had it in their water, as well as those ages three to 10.
“It’s going to be difficult to pull together all of that information but I think it’s necessary,” she said. “We just don’t know enough.”
The preschool oral health program is a minor solution to a much larger issue, she said, because AHS continues to recommend fluoridation of the water supply and the clinics only see a small percentage of children in Okotoks.
“It also creates disparity,” said Fischer. “If it’s good for kids, it’s good for all kids. Not just those municipalities who choose to do it or can afford to do it.”
Fischer said she would like a definitive response from AHS outlining benefits or risks of fluoridation, rather than having health issues left to the discretion of municipal councils.
Former Okotoks councillor Florence Christophers said the issue is an ethical one and asking municipalities to choose whether to put fluoride in the water robs residents of their freedom of choice.
After conducting six months’ worth of research in 2011 and 2012, Christophers encouraged the Town to cease fluoridation of its water supply.
“There are really compelling arguments on both sides,” she said.
Christophers said there is little research being done as to the effects of fluoride on the human body when it enters the bloodstream, though she has found evidence of health risks.
“When you drink it and it goes into the bloodstream it goes through the bones and arteries too,” she said. “Just like teeth, bones are affected by fluoride. They harden and become more brittle.”
One problem with putting pharmaceutical products into the water supply is people drink different amounts so doses of fluoride could not be controlled, she said.
The decision to put fluoride into drinking water is beyond what should be expected of a municipal council, said Christophers.
“Why towns are being asked to make this health decision is beyond me,” said Christophers. “They are and should only be obligated to provide clean, safe water for residents.”