The Town of Okotoks will stop adding fluoride to its drinking water supply Thursday, after receiving approval from the provincial government Dec. 13.
In May, town council voted six to one in favour of repealing the existing fluoridation bylaw and removing fluoride from drinking water.
Coun. Matt Rockley said the town engaged both residents and doctors on the issue before voting to pass the notice of motion, originally put forward by Coun. Florence Christophers early this year. The town’s public hearing about fluoridation in April was the most well-attended of this term of council, Rockley said.
“The council chamber was overcapacity,” he said “It was a very interesting topic in Okotoks that people certainly felt strong about.”
The town has also established a preschool oral-health clinic, answering the concerns of proponents of drinking water fluoridation who argue the practice helps prevent cavities.
The program will be run through the Okotoks Healthy Family Resource Centre in partnership with Alberta Health Services, said Sherri Mullen, the co-ordinator of the centre. It will provide free dental checkups and topical fluoride varnishes to children aged between 12 and 35 months whose families are Okotoks residents that have an Alberta Child Health Benefit Card or don’t have private dental insurance.
“If it’s out of the water, I think it’s really important that parents are still aware that there are ways to still get that on the teeth and to make use of the advantages that it has,” Mullen said.
But some experts argue there is next to no benefit of fluoridated water. Dr. James Beck, a Professor Emeritus of medical biophysics at the University of Calgary who has been studying fluoride since 1999, said he’s pleased Okotoks made the move against fluoride. He said the slight cavity-preventing benefits arise from topical action such as fluoride varnishes and fluoridated toothpaste, not from ingesting treated water.
There is also naturally occurring fluoride in the Sheep River, the source of Okotoks’ water supply, but Beck said that fluoride is quite different from what’s added to the water by treatment plants.
Naturally-occurring fluoride is actually calcium fluoride, or fluorspar, whereas the fluoride added to water supplies is hydrofluorosilicic acid, he said.
“It’s not a natural substance,” Beck said.
Beck was one of two doctors who presented their perspectives on fluoridation at the town’s public hearing. The other doctor, Richard Musto, is a medical officer for the Calgary zone of Alberta Health Services who made the case for the continued fluoridation of drinking water.
While council did consult with these and other experts about whether to remove fluoride, Rockley said he finds it “unbelievable” that the decision-making power regarding fluoridation falls within municipal jurisdiction.
“That still doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me,” Rockley said. “My opinion is that this type of decision, on whether or not a health-related product like fluoride is part of people’s drinking water, should be made by the medical community.”
“As a councillor, I felt it was best to take it out as a cautious approach.”
Okotoks now joins Calgary, Cochrane, Drayton Valley, Falher and Medicine Hat as Alberta’s fluoride-free municipalities.