By Jason Herring, September 20 2016 —
The City of Calgary stopped fluoridating water in 2011. Ten city councilors voted to stop the process, which involves a controlled addition of fluoride to public drinking water in order to reduce levels of tooth decay.
In the same meeting, councillors voted against including a plebiscite about fluoridation for the 2013 municipal election. They also decided not to refer the issue to a panel of experts.
Since then, tooth decay in Calgary children has increased at a higher rate than in children the same age from Edmonton, a city which still uses fluoridated water. This is according to a study released in early 2016 by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
Five years after the vote to remove fluoride, Calgary City Council still refuses to fully explore the issue. On Sept. 13 council rejected a motion to revisit the debate and consider the U of C’ study, which was offered to council for free.
This wasn’t even a vote to start putting fluoride back in water — it was a vote to look at the research available and hear from experts so council would be able to make an educated decision. City council has a responsibility to give careful considerations to relevant studies from local post-secondary institutions. Rejecting the motion without even giving the study credence is willfully ignorant.
The U of C study is not the only source that supports fluoridation of water. Alberta Health Service’s official stance on the issue is that fluoridation “offers significant benefit and very low risk” and “is a foundational public health measure for prevention of tooth decay.” Alberta health minister Sarah Hoffman even stated that the provincial government has studies supporting water fluoridation. But council still stands in opposition to even discussing fluoride.
Most councillors’ objections to fluoridation focus on individual rights. Coun. Andre Chabot is among them, saying that he sees it as “medicating the population with no options of opting out.”
But evidence shows that fluoridating water is not detrimental to health. Like vaccines, water fluoridation is a public health issue. And just like a parent choosing not to vaccinate their child, choosing not to fluoridate water isn’t only ill-informed, it’s irresponsible.
Fluoridation of water is cheap and effective. That’s an undeniable fact, given the leagues of evidence and research available. Children from low-income families who can’t afford dental care benefit heavily from the practice.
There’s no reasonable excuse for Calgary not to put fluoride in public water and there’s even less of an excuse for city council to ignore an academic study that would further inform debate of the issue.
Policy decisions should be made based on evidence. Simply ignoring the evidence on the benefits of fluoridation is poor policy making, as well as downright ignorant. And an ignorant municipal government doesn’t deserve to govern.