As a father, former family doctor and the Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, I am addressing questions about the proposal to bring community water fluoridation to the City of Orillia.
The debate about fluoridation has been springing up in cities and smaller municipalities across Canada of late, so the questions arising in Orillia are common to many communities and apply across this health unit’s jurisdiction.
Public health’s most important goal is to protect and promote the health of everyone in the community. One of the best tools to achieve that goal is fluoridation of drinking water. It gives children’s teeth greater protection against decay and it reinforces adult teeth too.
It does all this safely. Fluoridation of drinking water is an inexpensive way of improving oral health. Everyone can benefit regardless of their level of income. It saves all taxpayers many dollars in social assistance programs providing dental care to those who cannot afford it.
Fluoride is often found naturally in water. In Orillia’s water more fluoride needs to be added to be effective, but only a minuscule amount. Adding fluoride to community water systems to prevent dental cavities has been a common practice around the world for more than 60 years. In Ontario, about 76% of the population has fluoridated tap water.
Contrary to the claims made by opponents, community water fluoridation (CWF) works to prevent tooth decay, and it works safely. Despite the excellent track record of CWF, a small but very vocal minority continues to suggest a wide range of unsubstantiated health concerns related to fluoridation, including cancer.
It is very important to know that reliable scientific reviews have examined the alleged outcomes regarding safety, and have found no evidence that CWF causes these conditions. These reviews all conclude that CWF reduces dental decay and is safe.
We know that fluorosis does show up in some people. It’s a side effect from too much fluoride. In its mild form, teeth will show blotches or streaks that are slightly whiter than the rest. Sometimes very young children will swallow their toothpaste – that could be enough to cause fluorosis, as toothpaste has more than 1000 times the concentration of fluoride added to drinking water. Mild fluorosis of this sort is harmless. Very rarely there are more serious cases, where brown blotches develop. You cannot get serious fluorosis from community fluoridated water.
The hard numbers prove its effectiveness. Where there is fluoride in the drinking water supply, people have 20 to 40 per cent less decay than in non-fluoridated areas. There is evidence of this just north of Orillia in Muskoka, where the majority of the drinking water supplies have been fluoridated since 2003 and some go back to 1988. Children in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville on average have 48 per cent fewer decayed teeth than those in the non-fluoridated Simcoe communities of Alliston, Collingwood, Midland, Orillia, Penetanguishene and Wasaga Beach.
The health unit’s annual screening of elementary children has shown that Orillia’s children have the most severely decayed teeth among the 10 largest municipalities in the County of Simcoe.
There are several ways to prevent dental decay, including eating healthy and nutritious foods, brushing and flossing teeth daily, and visiting the dentist on a regular basis. However, some of these prevention techniques are not accessible for all people. Community water fluoridation provides a safe and effective way to protect the oral health of the entire community, regardless of a person’s age or income level.
The fluoride in your drinking water is much like other additives that aid your health. Among other examples, chlorine is added to water to prevent illness from bacteria. Vitamin D is added to milk to prevent rickets and to develop strong bones. Cereal has folic acid added to ensure women give birth to healthy babies.
In Ontario, the decision to fluoridate is made by each municipality. As with all decisions made by a municipal council, the public has a chance to express their views . In early 2012, the City of Orillia is undertaking a public consultation prior to the issue being decided by Council.
The City of Orillia requested that the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit contribute to the consultation. We would like to see the public talk about this issue with the real facts in front of them. We share the same views on fluoridation as Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, to name just a few.
I commend the City of Orillia for bringing the issue of community water fluoridation to the table as a means of protecting the oral health of all its residents, especially its children and most vulnerable citizens who can’t afford regular dental care.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss this subject in greater detail by calling our Health Connection line at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520.
Dr. Charles Gardner