As the school year draws to an end, it is time to consider how Calgary has been treating its children lately. In one respect, the answer is not well at all.
Calgary city council decided in 2011 to cease adjusting the fluoride levels in Calgary water. Three of us are dental specialists, and can attest to the devastating consequences.
Consider, for example, Sammy’s case. On a Saturday, his mother called a dental office reporting that the eight-year-old boy was irritable, feverish and crying constantly. The mother wanted an appointment for Monday morning, but we opened the office to see him. He was not well. An infection in his tooth had crept upward to his eye, such that his lower eyelid was closing.
This is a medical emergency. Once in the eye, a dental infection can travel rapidly to the brain and, if untreated, cause death. One of us went with his mother to Rockyview Hospital. Sammy was immediately given intravenous antibiotics and admitted. The next day, he was transferred to the Children’s Hospital for continued care.
Such systemic infections caused by dental infections are not unusual these days. In fact, we have had to change how we practice dentistry. When we had fluoridation, we would watch a small soft spot or cavity; we would wait to see whether it grew before drilling and filling. Now, we must pounce on the problem because, in the six months until the next appointment, that small, soft spot will likely become a huge hole in the tooth.
Consider another scenario. We now routinely see children whose primary and permanent molars are already decayed and require fillings as soon as the teeth erupt through the gums. When the dental decay is too severe, the infected teeth must be extracted. In very young children, such work must often be done under general anesthetic, which bears its own risks for kids and can be a horrible experience for the children and their parents.
Consequently, the child might need orthodontic care over a seven- to nine-year period to recreate a bite and to maximize the effectiveness of the remaining teeth. Prior to fluoridation cessation, we saw children in this state almost always from communities surrounding Calgary that did not have water fluoridation. Sadly, now Calgary children are losing teeth they will need throughout their adult lives.
Calgary children are not the only ones suffering. Adults need fluoridation too, especially seniors.
Fluoride is a mineral and occurs naturally in Calgary drinking water at 0.1 to 0.4 parts per million. It strengthens tooth structure, prevents decay and even reverses some decay. To be therapeutic, the fluoride level needs to be at 0.7 parts per million. At this level, fluoride remains safe and effective.
This fact is settled science, confirmed most recently in massive systematic reviews by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Irish Government Food Safety Authority. Indeed, 5,600 studies support adding fluoride to the 0.7 level.
Experts at the Public Health Agency of Canada, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend fluoridation; so do hundreds of leading global health and dental organizations, thereby attesting to its safety and efficacy.
Almost all U.S. cities fluoridate their water, as do major international cities. Incidentally, almost 90 per cent of NHL cities fluoridate their water.
It is time to recognize what we see every single day. Allowing the levels of fluoride in our drinking water to fall below 0.7 parts per million is a terrible mistake that hurts people: you, your children and your grandchildren, every day.
When children’s teeth are rotting, they can’t eat, sleep or develop normally. They have trouble concentrating in school and don’t want to play. Summer will not be much fun for kids with dental pain.
City councillors, please make reinstating water fluoridation a priority.
June Dabbagh and Wendy Street-Wadey are Calgary dentists. Leagh Harfield is a Calgary orthodontist. Juliet Guichon is a University of Calgary bioethicist.
Note from Ellen Connett of FAN:
One assumes that any individual identified with “ethics” would bring civil, factual and well considered comments to the table. As we see above, a bioethicist has aligned herself with a piece referencing white-washed reports from Australia and Ireland and added her name to this statement: “… fluoride remains safe and effective. This fact is settled science…” Fact? Science is rarely (if ever) settled and is always open for review.
A June 26th letter published in the Calgary Herald says it best:
… One of the authors of the piece is a bioethicist. She and the others should know that fluoridation of a public water supply is a gross violation of medical ethics. And for good reason.
James S. Beck, MD, PhD, professor emeritus, University of Calgary