February 19, 2011
It’s the health issue activists like to get their teeth into -adding the compound fluoride to municipal drinking water to reduce dental decay.
On one side are the proponents, including a majority of dentists and health specialists, who say there is considerable scientific evidence that adding fluoride significantly reduces cavities -particularly in children. They note Health Canada, the Canadian Dental Association and the World Health Organization support the practice.
Opponents include some health advocates, community groups and individuals that
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argue fluoridation contravenes the personal freedom to drink water free from additives. They claim fluoride might even be harmful and says that because some toothpastes contain fluoride it is not necessary to add the compound to the water supply.
The City of Regina has never added fluoride to its drinking water, despite several past debates on the issue. Regina voters rejected fluoridation in four plebiscites between 1954 and 1985 and city council decided,on a procedural technicality,not to hold a fifth plebiscite in 1997. The Leader-Post‘s own (unscientific) phone-in survey in 1996 received more than 2,500 calls on this issue, with 53 per cent in favour of fluoridation and 47 per cent against.
Fluoridation is back in the news for a couple of reasons.
First, the Saskatchewan Dental Health Screening Program 2008-09 Report released this week showed that Saskatoon, where fluoride has been added to the water supply since the 1950s, had the lowest rate of Grade 1 students with cavities in the province at 12.6 per cent.
Regina had the secondworst rate of students with cavities (after northern Saskatchewan) at 24.6 per cent -almost double Saskatoon’s.
Saskatoon Health Region chief medical health officer Dr. Cory Neudorf credits fluoridation with helping meet a federal goal of having 50 per cent of six-year-olds with no history of decay -the only region in the province to do so.
The second reason that fluoridation is garnering attention is the recent decision of Calgary city council to stop adding fluoride to its water, a move that left the city’s chief medical officer feeling “very disappointed”.
Calgary began using fluoride 20 years ago after it was narrowly approved in a public plebiscite. However, antifluoride campaigners finally persuaded a majority on city council last week to stop fluoridation. “It’s about freedom, it’s about choice and it’s about people taking ownership of their own health, not having it imposed on them,” one activist said. Calgary isn’t alone -residents in Waterloo, Ont., voted to stop fluoridation last fall.
That said, given the worrying number of young children in Regina with cavities, compared with Saskatoon, perhaps it’s time to take a new look at the pros and cons of fluoridation.
If there is to be such a debate, we trust people will take into consideration the best available science -and that all citizens would get the final say on this contentious topic through a binding plebiscite.