Greeting visitors to Orillia’s first public forum on fluoride with signs reading “Fluoride is the new F word,” Orillia Citizens Against Fluoride made a show of their presence.
Even before the public forum began, members of the group had made up their minds: They were there to stop fluoride from finding its way into Orillia’s water.
“Fluoridation is an ineffective and harmful public policy and a serious health risk,” said the group’s spokesperson, Susan Schweitzer. “The fluoride they want to put in our water is a toxic waste byproduct.”
Schweitzer’s belief was visibly mirrored by about two-thirds of the 120 people who attended the forum and wasn’t swayed by the evidence provided in favour of the practice.
The issue of fluoridating the city’s water was brought back into the limelight after Orillia was found to have the worst oral health in the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) jurisdiction, with 44% of children found to have cavities.
Among those with cavities, tooth decay is concentrated in about 20% of children, mainly from low-income households, according the SMDHU.
“Six per cent of Orillia’s children have half or more of their teeth affected. That is compared to 3% in fluoridated communities,” said Charles Gardner, SMDHU medical officer of health. “This is definitely affecting a specific group.”
Gardner was on hand to present the heath unit’s belief that fluoride is a cost-effective and safe method of addressing oral health locally.
Citing everyone from the World Health Organization, Australian and British dental associations to Health Canada, which, using 35 peer-reviewed, original studies found a 14% to 15% increase in cavity-free kids and a drop in average number of cavities among all children in fluoridated communities, Gardner made his case.
“There is an opportunity to improve the oral health status of the citizens of Orillia through the use of community water fluoridation,” he told the crowd.
However, “the problem with systematic reviews is that they are a hierarchal pyramid; the people at the top are selected,” said Peter Van Caulart of Canadians Opposed to Fluoride.
Articles can be swayed to a particular outcome by the bias of the person at the top, he said.
Keith Morley, a pediatric dentist, attended the forum to paint a picture of what dental decay looks like in children.
“It interferes with sleep, their ability to eat, to learn. It causes chronic pain. And yes, it can kill. I was called into the emergency room to look at a child. Three-and-a-half years of age and the child would die without treatment,” he said before showing a graphic photo of the child’s upper teeth rotted to brown stubs.
The high rate of tooth decay in Orillia has everything to do with the state of young families, Tammy Gouweloos, dental hygienist and former president of the Ontario Dental Hygienists’ Association, told the audience.
“Dental decay is caused by nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional education is the key to prevention. Orillia has a high rate of low-income families, which is directly related to dental decay and nutrition,” she said.
Improving overall health and access to nutrition was the solution she presented, one that was well received by the audience.
The pros and cons of fluoridation were hashed out for more than three hours at the public forum, with both opponents and proponents showing little wiggle room on their positions.
The public works department estimates the implementation of a fluoridation program would cost the city $50,000 to $100,000 in equipment and about $25,000 a year to run.
Staff is expected to report to council in June. Council will then decide whether the project should go forward.
“I’m going to tell you some things that you won’t want to hear, but that’s OK. When it is all said and done, very few people will have an epiphany here and change their minds,” Henry Wilson, who has been practising in Orillia for years, told the crowd. “As someone who sees children with decay all the time, this is a big problem.”
Wilson questioned the credibility of the fluoride naysayers, lending his voice to those who want to see Orillia’s water fluoridated.
“It isn’t just for the young; it helps the elderly,” he said. “Fluoride in the water supply is not rocket science. The jury is not out on this. The jury came back decades ago with ‘not guilty.’ You can choose to believe that or not.”
He ended his presentation by saying, “Orillia needs fluoridation and it needs it now.”
ANTI-FLUORIDE ACTIVIST SAYS BOTH SIDES OF ARGUMENT ARE NOT BEING HEARD
Orillia should just say “no” to adding fluoride to its drinking water, says a spokesperson for Orillia Citizens Against Fluoride.
There’s nothing wrong with a public forum on the prospective fluoridation of drinking water in Orillia, except it isn’t offering enough evidence of the negative health effects of such a move, said Susan Schweitzer.
“We feel a public debate with experts on both sides is needed.”
She and others in the group have requested the City of Orillia provide a venue for such a debate with experts on both sides of the issue to take place between March 6 and 12.
Schweitzer is also concerned the public forum is not offering a question period for experts to talk to each other, which would allow the public to see both sides of the debate. There were presentations during the meeting, but the agenda did not state what side of the issue they were on.
A public debate would “allow the public to get informed and ask experts questions on both sides,” Schweitzer said.
As of Wednesday, Orillia Citizens Against Fluoride had not heard back from the city about its debate request.
Schweitzer said research shows there are more harmful than helpful effects from fluoridating water and that many municipalities in Canada that had been fluoridating water have stopped.
In Ontario, Amherstburg, Waterloo, St. Jacobs and Elmira have stopped fluoridating water. Calgary Alta., Churchill Man., Moncton, N.B., and Williams Lake, B.C., are among the municipalities that have stopped fluoridating water.
Schweitzer called it a scientific “ruse” that water fluoridation prevents cavities and said she believes it could be linked to diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
A debate would help citizens and council gain the information to make an “informed decision, and we hope they say ‘no,’” Schweitzer said.