The incidence of rotten teeth is 24-per-cent higher in Kingsville and Leamington — where tap water is fluoride-free — than in Windsor, where municipal water has been fluoridated for decades, health authorities told reporters Friday.

“We want council to vote to keep the fluoride in our water supply,” said Dr. Frank Charles, a local dentist and past president of the Essex County Dental Society. Despite what opponents claim, Charles told a news conference at the health unit Friday that, “in the right amount, it is both safe and effective.”

Just a week ago, local medical officer of health Dr. Allen Heimann told The Star that, despite promising a year ago to study any differences between local municipalities, no such comparison could be made because such data is not collected by public authorities. But on the eve of a special city council meeting Monday to decide whether or not to end drinking water fluoridation in Windsor, LaSalle and Tecumseh, the health unit said it has just such figures to present.

“We got this information over the last few days,” said Dr. Gary Kirk, CEO and acting associate medical officer with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. He said the data had been collected through “school screenings” conducted by dental assistants and hygenists.

“This is a pretty simple study … at first blush, this is what the comparison showed,” said Kirk. He said more details would be revealed Monday night.

Local opponents of continued municipal fluoridation question the timing and sudden appearance of the study. Kimberly DeYong of Fluoride Free Windsor said 24 per cent “sounds impressive,” but that she’d like to see more about how the data was collected. She said other studies show little difference between communities that fluoridate and those that don’t, but that there are other negative health affects that must be considered as well.

“We’re ready to show that fluoridation is unproven, unnecessary and unethical,” said DeYong.

Council will certainly have plenty to chew on going into Monday night’s meeting, as well as during the debate. Almost 60 written letters and reports, many containing detailed scientific data and analyses, have been submitted, and 24 delegations were listed to make presentations as of Friday afternoon.

“I think it will be a very lively debate,” said Kirk. The pro-fluoride camp has vowed to bring in a number of outside experts, including Dr. Peter Cooney, the chief dental officer for Canada.

An example of just how complicated the debate could get is the position taken by the Canadian Pediatric Society. The health unit points to the CPS assuring the public that fluoridation of drinking water is safe. Fluoride Free Windsor counters that the CPS also recommends the “use of fluoride-free water to mix formula (for infants) less than six months of age.”

The special council meeting begins at 6 p.m. in city council chambers.

The Windsor Utilities Commission board is recommending an end to 60-year-old practice, and both Mayor Eddie Francis and Ward 8 Coun. Bill Marra, who chairs WUC, are among several around the council table who have already stated publicly they will vote for an end to fluoridation.

In a news release Thursday, the health unit said it’s “position is that fluoridating a community’s water supply is a safe, effective, economical, equitable, and ethical practice, and should be continued. It’s the least expensive way to help the at-risk population meet their dental care needs, as 33 per cent of the local population has no dental insurance.”

It says a local anti-fluoride group “has been very vocal on the topic, especially through social media. The concern is that this small advocacy group in social media (364 Liked on Facebook) may influence a decision that will impact hundreds of thousands of Windsor, Tecumseh, and LaSalle residents.”