Peel Region’s fluoride debate hasn’t been fully flushed despite a decision last April to keep the substance in the municipality’s drinking water.

Councillors passed a motion today urging Health Canada to classify fluoride for drinking water as a drug, and that the substance, used to prevent tooth decay, be assigned a “drug number” which, like over-the-counter medication, lets users know the product is subject to stringent government regulations.

Politicians made the move following a lengthy debate and after hearing from several residents opposed to water fluoridation.

“We should not be afraid to ask questions and to challenge Health Canada (about fluoridation),” said Mississauga Councillor Pat Mullin. “If there is even one doubt then we should be looking into this.”

In April, Council voted to continue with fluoridation, but asked staff to look into the possibility of reducing the amount in drinking water from 0.7 mg/L (milligrams per litre) to 0.2 mg/L, or the minimum amount recommended by the province and federal government.

That report, presented by Peel Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Mowatt today, recommends that the Region stick with current fluoride levels because they are optimal in preventing tooth decay.

In compiling the report, staff largely drew on comprehensive reviews Health Canada did between 2007 and 2010 (the last review was published in 1996), which reaffirmed the agency’s guideline of 0.7 mg/L fluoride concentration in the drinking water supply.

“Given the extensive review and the current recommendation of 0.7 mg/L, lowering fluoride in drinking water to 0.2 mg/L would not be effective in decreasing tooth decay,” the report to Council states.

However, the roughly 30 people who showed up at Council on Thursday shot down the recommendation to council and insisted politicians to do their own homework on the issue.

Politicians heard from six delegates who urged Council to reconsider its position on fluoridation.

One by one, speakers drew on reports, studies and personal anecdotes to argue there is much evidence to suggest that fluoridation is bad for your health.

They asked politicians to provide residents with proof that fluoride is safe, that levels in the water supply are regulated and that the substance poses no real adverse health risk to people.

“We are asking you, our elected representatives, to do your due diligence, to provide us with the evidence,” said Mississauga resident Leisa Cianchino. “All we are asking is for proof (that fluoridation is safe).”

Stopping short of revisiting the April 2011 vote on fluoridation in Peel, which would require a two-thirds majority vote to do, politicians opted to take the issue to a higher level.

The motion passed Thursday calls on Ottawa to regulate fluoride used as a treatment for dental cavities in drinking water as a drug under Natural Health Product Regulations.
It also insists that all chemicals added to drinking water for the purpose of treating dental decay undergo new drug applications and be assigned a drug number by Health Canada.

Councillors essentially agreed with delegates that although it is dispensed as a drug in the water, fluoride isn’t approved as one.

A drug number permits a manufacturer to market products in Canada and serves as a tool to help in the follow-up of products on the market, recall of products, inspections, and quality monitoring.

Thursday’s motion also states that the classification of fluoride as a drug be based on at least one long-term toxicology study to determine health impacts on humans.