Schools and dentists boost attempts to fight cavities, years after Calgary stopped putting fluoride in water

It’s a program with a goal of improving the dental health of elementary school children but it’s also an attempt to nudge Calgary city council into reversing a decision made six years ago.

'I would like to challenge city council to bring it back,' says dentist

Dr. Sarah Hulland says she wants Calgary to put fluoride back in the water supply. (James Young/CBC)

Calgary public schools and a non-profit are boosting their efforts to fight cavities, worried about children's declining dental health since city council voted to remove fluoride from water in 2011.

The non-profit Brushing for Brightness works with the Calgary Board of Education to puts kits — containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss — into the hands of elementary school students to get them thinking about proper dental hygiene habits.

"I wanted the community to know that we were going to make a difference as dentists and try to combat the fact that they took fluoride out of the water," Dr. Sarah Hulland, the pediatric dentist who founded the organization six years ago, said Wednesday.

"Since they have taken the fluoride out of the water, we actually have a significant increase in cavities in children," Hulland said.

Here are the raw materials for the dental hygiene kits. (James Young/CBC)

She was referring to a University of Alberta study released in February 2016.

It contrasted Grade 2 students in Edmonton, which still has fluoride in its water, and Calgary, which removed it in 2011.

Researchers found there were more cavities in both Calgary and Edmonton over the period of the study, but it got worse in Calgary, when fluoridation stopped, than in Edmonton, lead researcher Lindsay McLaren told The Calgary Eyeopener in 2016.

Hulland says the program will be delivering 12,500 dental kits to students in 50 Calgary elementary schools.

That's up from 8,000 last year.

The kits, 12,500 of them, include toothpaste, a toothbrush and dental floss. (James Young/CBC)

"If you start young, and you make a difference when they are young, you actually can make a difference for the children for a lifetime, because you instill the habits right out of the gate," she explained.

Hulland says she hopes city councillors are watching.

"I know it is a highly controversial topic but it has made a difference and I would like to challenge city council to bring it back."