Eight months of lengthy discussions came to an end on Monday night when Moncton city council voted to stick to the status quo of not adding fluoride to the municipality's water.

In 2011, after a contentious debate, Moncton council voted to suspend adding fluoride to the city's water for five years.

At the time, council asked the provincial Department of Health and the New Brunswick Dental Society to conduct a study on the benefits and risks of water fluoridation, which neither group did.

After a meeting with speakers representing both sides of the fluoride debate in June this year, and soliciting input from the public, staff recommended the city continue to not add fluoride to the Great Moncton water supply unless directed by the federal or provincial governments to do so.

Fluoridation has been widely studied and, if the fluoride doesn't exceed a particular level, is a tool endorsed by both higher levels of government for reducing tooth decay.

Coun. Pierre Boudreau moved the motion Monday night, expressing concern the city may be held legally responsible if any dangers were ever found to be associated with water fluoridation.

"We should err on the side of caution," said Boudreau.

Boudreau said an expert report should be provided by the provincial government before council approves reinstating fluoride into the city's water. Coun. Shawn Crossman seconded the motion.

Mayor Dawn Arnold

Fluoridation has the support of the federal and provincial governments as a way to reduce cavities, but Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold says she's found "a lack of consistent scientific consensus that is worrisome to me.” (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Mayor Dawn Arnold weighed in, saying the city had a responsibility to be thorough.

"We need to be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are doing no harm if we were to introduce this and that's a tough one to make," said Arnold.

"[There] are simply too many questions and a lack of consistent scientific consensus…is worrisome to me."

Fluoride supporters 'disappointed'

After the meeting, Dentist, vocal fluoride supporter and Vice President of the New Brunswick Dental Society Susan Drapeau-McNally said if council refuses to protect the teeth of the city's disadvantaged citizens through fluoride, then it should start working on another way to bring dental hygiene to people who can't afford it.

"I am very disappointed," said Drapeau-McNally.

"If the city is serious about helping the dental situation among their voters, well, do something about it."

Suzanne Drapeau-McNally

Suzanne Drapeau-McNally said she was very disappointed with Moncton council's decision against fluoridation. (Anais Brasier/Radio Canada)

The most recent numbers from the city estimate that adding fluoride to the water would carry an initial cost of $30,000 to upgrade the water treatment facility, followed by an annual cost of $70,000.

"Where has this money gone, or what have [councillors] done to help?" asked Drapeau-McNally.

"If they are serious, we want decay to stop, so let's talk."

Fellow dentist Nicole Brien shared the sentiment saying, "I have seen a difference, not just in the number of cavities but in how quickly they deteriorate."

Brien is a children's dentist, specializing in treating children with special needs. She said as children's teeth have worsened, the time it's taken patients to see her has lengthened.

"Treatment times in the last year have increased from, say, three or four months … [to] a year," said Brien.

Other communities to follow suit

Riverview recently broached the fluoride debate and decided to accept whatever decision Moncton council makes. But Riverview Mayor Ann Seamans urged other New Brunswick municipalities last week to join the call for a federal study that would look at both the positive and negative aspects of fluoridation. 

Coun. Greg Turner suggested the city take the issue to the citizens and conduct a plebiscite during the next municipal elections, but he made the suggestion after the motion was seconded making it a moot point.

Coun. Robert McKee suggested the city take any savings from not putting fluoride in the water and put it towards a program that would encourage children to brush properly at school and daycares. Council did not debate the issue.

The recommendation to continue to not put fluoride in the water was passed, with councillors Turner, Susan Edgett and McKee voting against.