By: Matt Driscoll, What’s Up Muskoka, Bracebridge, Ontario 30-Oct-2013 – If all goes according to schedule, fluoride will no longer be added to Muskoka’s water system as of Nov. 4.
For some in the community, that date can’t come soon enough.
Last week District of Muskoka councillors voted to remove fluoride from the District’s drinking water.
“It’s a matter of choice,” said Jim McEachran, a Bracebridge resident who lobbied District council during the meeting, where it was decided that fluoride should be removed. “This is a noxious chemical and it makes me feel very good that we have one less thing to worry about in our water.”
Although a group of Muskokans have been working for several years in an effort to have fluoride removed, McEachran said his own fight began roughly one year ago when he noticed blotches on his daughter’s teeth, which he suspected might have been caused by fluoride.
“I still don’t have a definitive answer as to what it is but it was the spark that caused me to look into this in more detail. I was aware that white blotching was a potential issue with fluorosis,” he said. “I’m just a parent who took a keen interest in this over the last year or so. There’s a lot of information out there and . . . the more I read about it, it just didn’t make any sense.”
McEachran said there are simply too many variables when it comes to “forced medication” via the water system.
“It’s fuzzy science,” he said.
Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, who also addressed council in favour of fluoridation, said afterwards that he was “taken aback” by council’s decision.
“I was surprised that it was put to a vote so quickly and I was surprised at the outcome,” he said. “It’s very important that the people of Muskoka understand what has happened here. They’ve lost their oral heath benefits.”
Orillia has never used fluoride in their water and Gardner says their studies show higher rates of cavities among children there. Compared to Muskoka, Orillia has much higher rates of severe dental decay (50 per cent of teeth or more) in children.
Fluoridated water typically results in two less cavities per child, says Gardner, which makes it extremely cost effective when compared to the potentially costly dental work resulting from tooth decay.
He says lower income families will be the hardest hit by the District’s decision.
“Those in lower income brackets are in higher risk to begin with,” he said. “They also typically lack in things like access to dental care, oral hygiene and good nutrition. It’s particularly important for them that the water be fluoridated.”
Gardner said the “overwhelming majority” of published research says fluoridated water systems are a safe and effective way to combat tooth decay. Meanwhile, he said much of the work that favours the removal of fluoride, including some of the work cited during the council meeting, has never been published for peer review.
Earlier in the month, Gardner was in New Tecumseh making a pitch to their council in an attempt to stop them from removing fluoride from their water system, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
“We’ve had a bad month,” he said.
He said the decision in both cases had little to do with scientific data and more to do with the effectiveness of the groups lobbying against fluoride.
“There is a very strong grassroots movement against fluoridation all through the western world, including Ontario, and it’s proved to be effective in Simcoe County unfortunately, and in the District of Muskoka,” he said. “They’re a relatively small group but they’re highly organized. They go to different communities to make the case and they use unrelenting tactics with municipalities, sending flurries of e-mails to councillors, which happened in Muskoka.”
He says the Health Unit will consider asking the province to mandate fluoridation of water, as is the case in some U.S. states and in all of Australia.
In the meantime, the Health Unit will continue to monitor what effect the recent decision has on the oral health of children in Muskoka.
McEachran, who got involved when he saw blotches on his daughter’s teeth, was one of two presenters opposed to water fluoridation who addressed council during their meeting.
McEachran said there are many other options for people who want to treat their teeth with fluoride.
“It may have some benefits if it’s applied to the teeth directly, no one’s going to argue that point, but there are other ways to apply it, and many are economical, people can do it themselves,” said McEachran.
The other anti-fluoride presenter was Dr. Brian McLean, a Barrie dentist, who delivered a speech written by Dr. Hardy Limeback, the former head of preventative dentistry at the University of Toronto.
Limeback said a recent study showed no benefit to fluoridation when comparing non-fluoridated Caledon to fluoridated Brampton. He said even studies that show benefits to fluoridation, indicate those benefits to be “often not statistically significant.”
He said many communities have already decided to drop fluoride, including Quebec City, Waterloo and New Tecumseh.
At council, both ant-fluoride speakers received loud applause from a gallery that included members of a group called Fluoride Free Muskoka, who have been attempting to have fluoride taken out of the water for several years.
Council took a recorded vote, electing to remove fluoride 10-9. Voting in favour were councillors Shane Baker, Steve Clement, Fran Coleman, Claude Doughty, Paisley Donaldson, Allen Edwards, Lori-Lynn Giaschi-Pacini, Bob Lacroix, Alice Murphy and Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa.
Doughty, a former dentist himself, said freedom of choice was a big issue. He said there are now many methods of receiving fluoride, and perhaps fluoride in the water is not as effective as it once was. “This is an epiphany for me tonight,” he said.
Doughty said the $50,000 the District spends on fluoridation each year should be set aside for emergency dental surgery. That issue will be discussed at budget time.
In 2012, 11,490 households in Muskoka were serviced by fluoridated municipal water.
On the other side of the argument, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith called some of the anti-fluoridation arguments ridiculous. “No one has convinced me . . . that a change is necessary,” he said. “I have a bottle-fed baby at home and I’m glad there’s fluoride in the water.”
Presenting on the pro-fluoride side, Dr. Adrian Musters represented the Muskoka Simcoe Dental Association.
He said fluoridating the water is safe, effective and cost efficient, adding over 90 reputable health organizations, including Health Canada, the World Heath Organization and the Ontario Dental Association recommend fluoridation of water systems.
“It’s very simple. Fluoride makes teeth stronger and resistant to tooth decay,” said Musters. “This debate is bizarre. We have a great product delivered right into our homes.”