AMHERST, N.S – Amherst voters are doing more than picking their leadership for the next four years. This year’s election is different.
Along with picking a mayor and six councillors, voters are being asked to cast ballots electronically in a plebiscite on the possibility of adding fluoride to the town’s water supply.
“We have an oral health crisis in our country,” the northern region’s medical officer of health Dr. Ryan Sommers said. “Oral health, particularly cavities, is the most chronic health issue in Canada. It’s the top chronic health issue among children. Poor oral health is also linked to poor overall health.”
Sommers took his message to town council last winter in support of the SOAR Community Health Board and area dentists, urging the town to add fluoride to municipal water.
Amherst CAO Greg Herrett said council considered the information presented by Dr. Sommers and hosted a virtual public hearing in the spring. It decided it would be best to include the public in the decision since it’s something that potentially could impact everyone.
“Council recognized it’s a deeply personal issue and they wanted to get input from the citizens and the users of the water utility. They decided to hold a plebiscite and it’s on the ballot,” said Herrett, reiterating the town does not have a position on the matter. “Plebiscites are non-binding, so even after the election and the results of the plebiscite are received when it comes before council it will be its prerogative to make that decision. I’m sure the council of the day will take into consideration the results of the plebiscite, but they are not bound by it.”
Herrett said adding fluoride to the water comes with a capital investment as well as annual costs to the water utility.
“It’s done in other places so the equipment and the technology exists,” he said.
Adding fluoride is a process that’s supported by numerous organizations such as the World Health Organization and Health Canada.
“It is already established in communities all over the work and it’s recognized as one of the most important public health achievements, along with vaccination and seat belt laws,” Dr. Sommers said. “It’s also well supported by dental associations and medical officers of health.”
He said the benefits are evidenced-based and the benefits include a 20 to 40 per cent reduction in cavities.
Dr. Sommers said another benefit is its universal with a small investment helping a large population from all socio-economic backgrounds and age groups.
Flouride has been used in Canada since 1945 when Brantford, Ontario chose to add fluoride to its water. While supporters tout it as a way to reduce cavities with little risk of negative health effects, those who oppose it use arguments of the financial price of adding the element the water supply, as well as environmental pollution and alleged health risks. Others contend it’s an infringement on human rights.
“The weighted evidence does not support any link between water fluoridation and any adverse health effects,” said Dr. Sommers. “It’s also very highly regulated.”
Although many communities add fluoride to the water supply there are some who have discontinued the practice. Moncton, N.B., for instance, ended fluoride use in 2011 and voted in 2017 to maintain the status quo and keep fluoride out of the water supply unless ordered to by either the provincial or federal governments.
Ontario – 75%
Quebec – 6.40%
Nova Scotia – 56.80%
New Brunswick – 25.90%
Alberta – 74.40%
British Columbia – 3.70%
Newfoundland and Labrador – 1.50%