By: Rhiannon Russell, TheSpec.com, Hamilton, Ontario 19-May-2012 – It’s the dreaded question: “Which fluoride flavour would you like?” We’re given the choice of mint or cherry or something equally gag-worthy. Although most of us associate fluoride with a trip to the dentist, we’re consuming fluoride (albeit in a lower concentration) when we drink tap water.
Fluoride is achemical found naturally in soil, fresh and saltwater and certain foods that prevents cavities and tooth decay. Since the 1960s, it has been added to Hamilton water, as well as other water supplies across Canada, to improve oral health.
Proponents see it as a way to provide basic dental care to everyone in a community, regardless of income.
“It levels the playing field,” said Dr. Harry Höediono, president of the Ontario Dental Association. “Think of fluoride as a natural supplement that we add to make our lives healthier.”
And although fluoridation was dubbed one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, critics call the chemical a toxic substance, pointing to research that shows it’s bad for the environment, causes fluorosis — white streaks or spots on the teeth — in children and may also be linked to cancer, loss of bone density and autism.
In Ontario, the decision to fluoridate is left to municipal governments.
Last month, the City of Hamilton’s annual report on fluoridation was released, to much debate from councillors and citizens alike. Councillor Brian McHattie tabled a motion asking Health Canada to designate fluoride as a drug or an additive or supplement. He also requested a long-term study to examine the effects of fluoride on humans. Council approved the motion last week and is now waiting for Health Canada to respond.
“This is a complex issue,” McHattie said. “(Municipal governments) shouldn’t be expected to be the experts. You’d hope that Health Canada could be a little more objective.”
Health Canada, as well as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dental Association and the World Health Organization, strongly support fluoridation and deny it has any adverse health effects besides fluorosis.
But the question is, are we getting too much fluoride?
Today, there’s a variety of products that contain it. From toothpaste to mouthwash, we’re getting more fluoride than ever. And no one’s exactly sure how much is too much.
Höediono, for one, is confident that fluoridated water isn’t providing us with enough.
“It’s been shown worldwide … that community water fluoridation is not in itself enough to prevent cavities in children,” he said. “Fluoride is only one of the preventative tools that we can use.”
But Dr. Hardy Limeback of the University of Toronto’s faculty of dentistry argues that fluoridating tap water is unethical.
“The issue of mass medication of an unapproved drug without the expressed informed consent of each individual must also be addressed,” he writes in a letter posted on the Fluoride Action Network. “The dose of fluoride cannot be controlled.”
Nuts and bolts
• About 70 per cent of Ontario’s population drinks fluoridated water.
• Waterloo and Amherstburg recently stopped adding fluoride to their water, while Toronto and Halton Region voted to continue doing so.
• Health Canada dictates the maximum acceptable concentration of fluoride in drinking water is 1.5 milligrams per litre, but 0.7 mg/L is optimal.
• The City of Hamilton’s water concentration is 0.6 mg/L.
• Water fluoridation in Hamilton costs less than $3 per person per year.
• About 400,000 people receive city water, so the annual cost is approximately $1 million.
Sources: Health Canada, City of Hamilton, Canadians Opposed to Fluoridation