Saint John city administrators recommend terminating a fluoridation program they call inefficient. (CBC)

Saint John city councillors have delayed their decision on whether to remove fluoride from city water, opting instead to hear from dental hygiene experts before determining whether the results are worth the cost.

Saint John water commissioner Bill Edwards gave council the option of including or removing fluoride from the drinking water supply, which costs roughly $177,000 a year. Edwards recommended removing it, based solely on economics and the amount of fluoride that goes wasted.

"Of all the water we fluoridate, less than 1 per cent is actually consumed by people," he said.

Edwards was in front of city council Monday night to get a decision on the 2014 water and sewer budget.

'I think that because there's different options on this, we do need to hear from the community to get a full understanding of it.' - Coun. Shirley McAlary

Council approved the recommended budget, which includes a 7.1 per cent increase for all users. Annual water bills will increase to $1,080 for 2014 — an amount that will climb to $1,296 by 2017, as the city updates its aging water system.

The $39-million water and sewer utility budget includes an option to remove fluoride from the water supply.

But councillor Shirley McAlary asked for extra time to decide on fluoride, and council agreed.

"I think that because there's different options on this, we do need to hear from the community to get a full understanding of it," said McAlary.

Health officials to present advice in 2014

Health officials will be asked to present their opinion early in the new year. In the meantime, fluoride will still be added to the Saint John drinking water system.

Coun. Susan Fullerton said she expects the decision to keep the chemical for the time being may be unpopular. She administered an informal weekend poll by phone, internet and in person.

"I had 266 votes, 214 to take it out, and 52 to keep it in," she said.

Any savings would be used for system upgrades, said Edwards.

Several municipalities across the country have taken similar approaches. That includes Moncton, where in 2011 city councillors voted to stop adding fluoride to the water.

But the proposal for Saint John to do the same conflicts with the advice of local dentists. Jeff Clark, with the New Brunswick Dental Society, says adding fluoride to the water is good for dental health, especially in children.

Critics of water fluoridation say it can cause fluorosis — a white mottling of the teeth, or a weakening of bones. They also say it forces the population to take a form of medication.