If you don’t see a dentist – or a toothbrush – regularly, the local health unit worries about your pearly whites.
Windsor stopped adding hydrofluorosilicic acid to its water Monday. The residual traces of the fluoride compound will stop coming out of local taps within days. That had public health officials Tuesday urging residents to consider other ways to protect their teeth.
“Our message is consult with your dentist or physician or nurse practitioner,” said Liz Haugh, director of health promotion with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. “You can talk to your pharmacist as well.”
Rosemary Arsenault, manager of the health unit’s oral health program, said dentists and hygenists perform what’s called a “caries risk assessment” as part of regular exams. They can recommend fluoride treatments or sealants if necessary.
They can also recommend fluoride drops or tablets readily available at a drug store where a pharmacist can recommend the right dosage.
But both Arsenault and Haugh agree fluoride toothpaste may be enough to protect most people.
Arsenault said fluoridated toothpaste should not be used by children too young to spit it out.
“If swallowed in high amounts, there is a risk,” she said.
But her advice for preventing cavities is the same regardless of whether your water is fluoridated.
“Healthy eating is the key…Avoid refined sugar.”
Carbonated beverages eat away at tooth enamel regardless of whether they contain real sugar or not. Sticky, sweet foods like candy or even dried fruits can cause cavities, Arsenault warned.
Don’t give infants too much juice and don’t put them to sleep with a bottle, Haugh added.
While the benefits of fluoridation is highly debated, Haugh called it the great equalizer in oral health. It covered everyone regardless of whether they have dental insurance or can afford regular cleanings and check-ups.
“The reason we love fluoride are the marginalized people who don’t use a toothbrush and don’t have a good diet,” Haugh said. “It put everyone on a level playing field.”
Haugh said, only half-jokingly, she can foresee people filling containers of water from taps in Detroit or Chatham and bringing them home. There, fluoride is still added to the drinking water.
Closer to home, in much of Essex County, it is not.
Municipalities served by the Union Water system in Ruthven – Leamington, Kingsville, Essex and Lakeshore – don’t have fluoridated water.
The reason, explained Haugh, are the food processing requirements of H.J. Heinz.
The food processor, which uses as much water as all the residents of any one of the Union Water member municipalities combined, would need to remove fluoride from some of its products, specifically its baby food.
“It would be hard to sell in some markets otherwise,” she said.
Bill Marck, Leamington’s chief administrative officer, remembers moving to Essex County and buying fluoride tablets for his children.
“There’s been no fluoride in the water for at least 30 years.”
The local health unit provides free dental care for children through its Children in Need of Treatment (CINOT) and Healthy Smiles Ontario programs. Information is available at wechealthunit.org.