The Ontario legislature voted Thursday to ban cities from removing fluoride from their water supplies.
Though the motion brought forward by a Liberal MPP is non-binding —meaning it’s more symbolic than prescriptive —it could send a clear signal to cities and suggest where the government is headed next.
Mississauga-Streetsville MPP Bob Delaney brought the issue to the floor of the legislature because Peel region, which includes his riding, has a motion on its book to remove fluoride form its water. The negative ion has been added to drinking supplies since the 1950s after it was discovered areas with more naturally occurring fluoride had better dental health. Stratford, Ontario, is one city where there’s enough natural fluoride it doesn’t need more added, Delaney said, but other cities need a bit more for the dental health benefits to take effect.
And Peel is far from alone in considering what Delaney called the “junk science” behind anti-fluoridization campaigns.
From Prince George, British Columbia, to Moncton, New Brunswick, cities across the country have opted to remove fluoride from their water. Dentists and public health experts in the Atlantic province have urged city councillors to reverse course in a statement this week. The call follows the release of a study earlier this year examining dental health in Calgary, which stopped fluoridating its water in May 2011. The study found grade 2 students’ dental health declined measurably within three years of the cessation.
Denise Kokaram, program lead of the Alex Dental Health Bus in Calgary, says the data shows a clear increase in the severity of dental disease among the children it serves since the city dropped fluoride from its drinking water.
That’s just the latest tidbit of evidence about the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation. Medical officers of health and dental organizations across the country have urged cities to reconsider plans to remove fluoride from municipal water supplies. These experts have sought to counter the anti-fluoride misinformation campaigns that have prompted many municipal governments to consider removing the additive from drinking water.
“It is imperative that public health decisions be rooted in science and evidence — and the evidence on water fluoridation is clear,” Ontario Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, himself a medical doctor, said earlier this year. “The benefits of water fluoridation are well documented and have been endorsed by groups ranging from the Canadian Dental Association and Public Health Agency of Canada to the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has called the use of fluoride in drinking water one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century,” he said.
Hoskins was responding to discussion in Brampton, Ontario, about a possible referendum on fluoride. The spread of misinformation online has fuelled anti-fluoride activists across the country into calling on municipal politicians to remove the mineral — which occurs naturally in lower doses in soil, water and food — from drinking water. Starting in the 1960s, it was commonly added to water supplies to improve dental health, but then in the mid-1990s some communities across North America and in the United Kingdom started to remove it, over trumped-up health concerns.
A number of cities in Ontario, including Windsor and Waterloo, have voted over the past decade to remove the chemical, and others have considered removing it it as recently as this year. The discussion in Peel Region prompted Hoskins and Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams to write the heads of municipal councils about the issue. They raised concern about the “growing number of communities across Ontario that are choosing to discontinue fluoridation of their municipal drinking-water system in spite of consistent evidence that water fluoridation is a safe and effective method to reduce the risk of oral health problems.”
“Tooth decay is the single most common chronic disease among Canadian children,” they wrote, adding it has been linked to everything from heart disease to low birth weights. “Water fluoridation is, and must be recognized, as a very important measure to protect the health of Ontarians.”
Both opposition parties at Queen’s Park supported the science behind the motion.The New Democrats pointed out fluoride is beneficial, but the motion fails to acknowledge people who live off private wells don’t drink fluorinated water or the plight of indigenous communities without a clean source of drinking water. The Tories noted the science is sound, but said it does little to further the issue to dismiss those who won’t believe the science as “silly.”
That prompted Delaney to respond, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.”