Should all Ontario cities be forced into water fluoridation?
MPPs in the province will debate that question Thursday afternoon as the debate over the mineral’s role in boosting dental health continues to rage across the country.
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. [Note from Fluoride Action Network: this study was fatally flawed with key data omitted. See FAN’s critique]
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.
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.”
The motion to be debated in that province on Thursday afternoon could be a first step towards provincial action on the issue. The brought forward by Liberal MPP Bob Delaney is non-binding —meaning it’s more symbolic than prescriptive — but it could send a clear signal to cities. His riding is in Peel and he worries it will be the next to cave to unscientific concerns and ban fluoride. That’s why Delaney calls on the province to “remove the portions of the Ontario Municipal Act that allow a municipality to either opt out of fluoridation of its drinking water once the process has started, or to fail to start the fluoridation of municipal drinking water.”
The Mississauga-Streetsville MPP also recommends the province provide funds to help cities reintroduce fluoride into their water supplies (or in some cases add it for the first time.)
— This story will be updated with the result of Thursday’s vote