By: Milton Canadian Champion, InsideHalton.com, Halton, Ontario 31-Jan-2012 – The decision to stick with fluoridated water passed by a slim margin following yesterday’s marathon regional council meeting.
The words used during the 10 hours of delegations varied greatly, depending on who was speaking. Doctors, dentists and medical researchers described fluoride as a mineral naturally found in water sources; a great equalizer that levels the playing field between those who can afford dental care and those who can’t and one of the most important health interventions of the last century.
However, those on the other side of the debate said the long-term effects of continued ingestion of fluoride are still largely unknown, and they described the additive as a forced medicine and a cancer-causer.
Convincing arguments from both sides of the debate led to a narrow 11-nine vote in favour of continued fluoridation.
“We had a tremendous improvement in water fluoridation in Canada and at the same time we’ve seen a tremendous decline in tooth decay,” said Health Canada’s Chief Dental Officer Dr. Peter Cooney, who pegged that decline at about 30 per cent.
“This is a very, very safe practice,” Cooney continued. “Some of the things you’re going to hear about this is absolutely bizarre…stick with the work of health organizations and stick with the good science.”
Cooney said the Center for Disease Control estimates every $1 invested in fluoridation saves $38 of dental treatment. He said other ways to prevent tooth decay include distributing fluoride toothpaste at a cost of $3 or topical fluoride treatments at $30.
The Region spends $268,000 a year or 54 cents per person on fluoridation.
“I will make a lot of money by removing fluoridated water. The thought that there’s a world-wide conspiracy is ridiculous,” said Dr. Robert Wood, head of dental oncology at Princess Margaret Hospital and a Burlington resident.
He said removing fluoride from drinking water would result in “the golden age of dentistry.”
However, councillors and residents had their doubts.
Burlington Councillor Marianne Meed Ward said she sees adding fluoride to drinking water as a health crisis.
She said factors such as income, education and diet have far more effects on dental health than water fluoridation does. “In the last several decades water fluoridation has gone up and dental cavities have gone down. But we hear from Health Canada that there’s so causation evidence that the two are related. There’s no evidence between half of the population (in Canada) that is not fluoridated and half of the population that is, that the half not getting fluoridated water are at a significant risk.”
Several residents who addressed council pointed to numerous studies that linked fluoride ingestion with bone cancer, Alzheimer’s diseases, skeletal fractures and fluorosis, which causes tooth discolouring.
“The Health Canada report does not assure fluoride is safe or effective. It concludes it does not support a link between water with fluoride and adverse health effects. But Health Canada’s own report associates water fluoridation with hip fractures in seniors,” said Oakville resident Diane Sprules.
Added Oakville resident Erika Ristok: “It’s not regional council’s role to play doctor. The Region can recommend getting a flu shot but it’s my choice whether to get one or not.”
A letter from Oakville MP Terence Young supported removing fluoride from Halton’s water. Young said in the last 15 months, 13 Canadian municipalities have stopped fluoridating water. During that same period of time, no communities have started the practice.
However Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Arlene King said the value of fluoridated water shouldn’t be underestimated.
Pointing to the City of Dryden, which removed fluoride from municipal water and saw a 26 per cent increase cavities, she said, “I am very concerned about the loss of fluoridated drinking water in certain communities despite the evidence that it’s safe and effective…. it is an important additive for purposes of dental health a great equalizer across the province.”
Halton Medical Officer of Health Dr. Bob Nosal gave an impassioned presentation toward the end of the long day speaking for what he called “the silent majority” who want fluoridation to continue.
A random telephone survey done by the Region shows 64 per cent of adults said they supported fluoridation. “I truly believe that if you decide to stop water fluoridation then you are guaranteeing a minimum of 100,000 extra cavities for Halton residents over the next six to 10 years.”
But several councillors said adding fluoride to the municipal water system doesn’t leave much of choice for residents who are against the practice.
“We don’t have a moral right to impose this on our residents,” said Oakville Councillor Jeff Knoll. “We are eroding a human right, to have the right to choose.”
Oakville Councillor Alan Elgar said he was more concerned with the connection between fluoridated water and hip fractures than its benefits for oral health. “In Europe, 98 per cent of the population doesn’t have fluoride in the water, and their dental cavity rate is down to two. It makes me wonder if it was really the fluoride that made the difference.”
The passionate delegations from both sides of the debate had councillors admitting they were going back and forth on how to vote throughout the meeting. Halton Hill Councillor Clark Somerville, who originally motioned to end fluoridation in 2008, surprised his colleagues by voting in support of the staff recommendation to continue fluoridating.
“That’s not the answer I would have given you five hours ago. But for the overall health and wellbeing of the region, the smartest thing for me as a councillor is to vote that way,” said Somerville. “That’s what’s best for the most vulnerable citizens.”
While the vote was close, there was one thing the majority of councillors agreed upon: this shouldn’t be a decision made by municipal politicians.
“This is a public health issue and should be in the jurisdiction of the provincial and federal government,” said Burlington Councillor John Taylor. “I have a chemistry background, but I’m still not a doctor, I’m not a dentist, I have to rely on that kind of interpretation from them.”
When asked by Halton councillors why the upper levels of government don’t mandate water fluoridation since it’s so highly recommendation by dozens of national and international health organizations, none of the experts could answer.
Said Burlington Councillor Blair Lancaster, “It’s ridiculous that this question has come to this council. We have two governments who are responsible for our health. They should be making this decision.”
Voting to continue water fluoridation in Halton were Regional Chair Gary Carr, mayors Rick Bonnette, Rick Goldring and Rob Burton and councillors Tom Adams, Keith Bird, Rick Craven, Jack Dennison, Jane Fogal, Clark Somerville and John Taylor. Voting to end fluoridation were councillors Colin Best, Allan Elgar, Alan Johnston, Jeff Knoll, Tony Lambert, Blair Lancaster, Marianne Meed Ward, Paul Sharman and Mayor Gord Krantz.