On Feb. 8, Calgary city council voted 10-3 in favour of removing fluoride from the city's drinking water. Earlier in the day, city council considered and rejected putting the issue to a plebiscite during the 2013 municipal election. Council also rejected the idea of referring the matter to an expert panel.
The issue of fluoridation has proved a lightning rod for Calgarians, and has been a contentious issue for many Canadian municipalities in the past. To capture both sides of the debate, CBC News spoke to two health-care professionals.
Dr. Robert C. Dickson is a family physician leading the anti-fluoridation campaign in Calgary. Dr. Lynn Tomkins is a Toronto dentist and president of the Ontario Dental Association and she supports fluoridation in community water.
CBC: What is your position on fluoride in drinking water?
Dr. Dickson: Putting a toxic chemical like fluoride in the water just to make a small difference and to be affecting so many body systems at the same time is not ethical and is not safe. Fluoridation does not work. It does not work ingested. It's like trying to ingest your sunscreen. Fluoride works topically.
Even the Centers for Disease Control in the States has said that, they've admitted that. The American Dental Association has admitted that. Health Canada has admitted that. So fluoride does not work ingested, it works topically.
So let's put it on our teeth. Let's put it on with brushing. Let's put it on at the dentist, if you choose. Let's not put it inside our bodies where it doesn't work and where it causes a lot of harm and a lot of toxicity. It works on the exterior of the teeth. So there's very very little — if any — effect coming from the inside out. It works topically on the teeth. That's why dentists do it in their offices. They put the fluoride on your teeth, you're very careful not to swallow any there, you spit it out. And then you brush with fluoride. You brush with fluoridated toothpaste — and that goes topically as well.
Dr. Tomkins: We know that community water fluoridation is safe and effective and it reaches all populations and it prevents tooth decay. So we are very, very much in favour of community water fluoridation. There's a tremendous body of scientific evidence that does show that water fluoridation — in the right amount — is safe and it is effective.
We have the support of over 90 national and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, Health Canada — they all agree that water fluoridation is safe and effective.
We all benefit from water fluoridation, because the fluoride that is secreted in your saliva bathes your teeth daily and that helps reduce decay. It's an important adjunct to all of the other things you do to keep your teeth healthy and you do benefit from it at any age.
CBC: How do you feel about communities voting to eliminate fluoride?
Dr. Dickson: In Calgary, we've been working with city council for years and years, and the new council and mayor — they're much more open-minded and they're ready to tackle this. The majority of councillors are on our side. They're ready to step out and make some changes for the health of our people.
VIDEO: Dr. Dickson on the harmful effects
It's about time we wake up as a society. We've been sleeping too long and letting people make decisions for us that aren't really necessarily healthy for us. It's a sign that we're backing away, but it's way too slowly. B.C. is 95 per cent not fluoridated. Quebec is about the same. Europe is 98 per cent not fluoridated. And guess what? Their teeth are just as good as ours. They have no epidemics of dental problems. One of the best graphs — if you Google the World Health Organization data — all the major fluoridated countries, and 14 of the non-fluoridated countries in the world — and their rates of tooth decay over the last 50 or 60 years.
And the rates of tooth decay are going down at exactly the same rate in the fluoridated countries and the non-fluoridated countries. So right there that shows you that it's not water fluoridation that's doing it. And one of the graphs that came out that was very similar — going back to the 1800s, when they first started collecting data on teeth decay — and teeth decay at that time was pretty high. Graph goes down on linear line toward lower cavities.
Look at when fluoride came in the 50s and 60s — you can draw a line on that graph — and the slope of that line is exactly the same.
It's not good for poor kids. We've got studies to prove that. We'll go to areas where there's a lot of poor children, we'll fluoridate part of the community and we'll not fluoridate another community of poor kids. It's exactly the same, there's no change after years.
Dr. Tomkins: It's so important for the people making the decision in the community to have the right information, to have the scientific information that shows the benefit of the fluoridation and the right amount. Rather than being put to a vote, it would be much better if it was decided by the public health officials and made part of their mandate.
VIDEO: Dr. Tomkins on the benefits
In Kitchener-Waterloo, you have 60 years of evidence that the water is safe, it's effective, it's not causing illness in the population and it's preventing tooth decay. There is actually abundant evidence that it is making a difference. It does make a huge difference in populations. And I can tell you that my colleagues in Waterloo tell me that they can tell if a patient has been raised in Kitchener-Waterloo sometimes just by looking at their mouths and the number of cavities they have. My own personal experience from Montreal and Toronto, 35 years of age, their mouths are very different. So we do see a big difference.