fluoride-w-boy-cp-istock

Dentists offer fluoride treatments to the surface of teeth. ((iStock))

The latest move in a long-simmering debate across the country on fluoridation is happening in Calgary.

Wednesday's day-long consultation by Calgary city council is on an issue other Canadian municipalities have faced.

Waterloo, Ont., for example no longer adds fluoride to its water supply. Less than half of the city's population of 500,000 turned out to vote on the issue last summer, and the anti-fluoride side won by a slim margin.  

"Since there's so many ways to access fluoride, why do you need to have it the water?" asked Blaine Grey, a 53-year-old father who went door to door to campaign against fluoridation.

P.O.V.:

Do you think tap water should be fluoridated? Take our survey.

rodin-gary-584-cp

Dr. Gary Rodin, Princess Margaret Hosptial

Fluoridation first started in Canada 60 years ago. Forty-five per cent of Canadians drink fluoridated water, Health Canada said in 2007, the latest national figures available.

Dentists and authorities such as Health Canada and the World Health Organization that support fluoridation say adding the mineral to water protects teeth. 

They say community water fluoridation is a safe and effective way to protect everyone, particularly children's teeth as they develop.

"It is part of our equitable treatment of our population" said Dr. Lynn Tomkins, president of the Ontario Dental Association. "Getting fluoride in the drinking water does help all of the vulnerable population, as well as healthy populations."

But those against fluoridation say the cavity protection practice risks fluorosis, a condition where tiny stains or pits appear on teeth if too much fluoride is ingested.

Fluoride choice

Aside from drinking water, fluoride is also available in toothpastes and mouthwashes.

That's why dentists take care to educate parents about the correct amount of toothpaste to use on the brush, proper brushing habits, and the idea of spitting afterwards, Tomkins said.

The opponents believe there's a risk of more serious health problems though that has never been conclusively proven in a medical study.

Dr. Robert Dickson, a family physician in Calgary leading the city's anti-fluoride campaign, argues it is better to let citizens choose how much fluoride they get, rather than administering  it to everyone in drinking water.

"Let's put it on there with brushing," Dickson suggested. "Let's put it on at the dentist if you choose. Let's not put it inside our bodies where it doesn't work."

It's better care, such as fluoridated toothpaste and higher quality diets that include more calcium and phosphorus that are improving dental health rather than fluoridation itself, Dickson said.

To date, available evidence shows regions with fluoridation have fewer cavities, though worldwide that gap is closing.

 Provincial and territorial estimates of community water fluoridation coverage in 2007 
 Province/Territory  Per cent with fluoridated water
 British Columbia  3.7%
 Alberta  74.7%
 Saskatchewan  36.8%
 Manitoba  69.9%
 Ontario  75.9%
 Quebec  6.4%
 New Brunswick  25.9%
 Nova Scotia  56.8%
 Prince Edward Island  23.7%
 Newfoundland and Labrador  1.5%
 Nunavut  0.0%
Northwest Territories  56.4%
Yukon  0.0%

Canada

45.1%

Source: Health Canada

With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe and Sophia Harris