Calgary's lack of fluoride may contribute to cavities in baby teeth, study suggests

Kids in Calgary are more likely to develop cavities than children in Edmonton where the water is still fluoridated, a University of Calgary study suggests.

Calgary has overtaken Edmonton for rates of cavities in baby teeth over 5 years

More Calgary participants in a U of C study had one or more cavities in their baby teeth than did those in Edmonton. (The Canadian Press)

Kids are more likely to develop cavities in Calgary than in Edmonton where the water is still fluoridated, a University of Calgary study suggests.

The research comparing the dental health of children in the two cities was published in July in the medical journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.

It found that 64.8 per cent of participants in Calgary had one or more cavities in their baby teeth, compared with 55.1 per cent in Edmonton participants.

And according to Lindsay McLaren, the report's lead investigator and a professor of community health sciences at the U of C, fluoridation status is very likely to be an important factor.

"Calgary discontinued its fluoridation program back in 2011, whereas in Edmonton fluoridation is still in place," McLaren told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"We saw these considerable differences in the prevalence of dental cavities, especially in baby teeth, between the two cities — and that difference has actually gotten wider over time since [fluoride] cessation happened."

The research

The study included approximately 2,600 children in Calgary and 2,600 more in Edmonton during 2018 and 2019.

Participants were about seven years old, and born after fluoride was taken out of the water supply in Calgary, to ensure they had lived their entire lives with or without it.

They were also recruited through schools rather than dentists to get an accurate snapshot of the populations that included lower-income children who cannot afford dental care.

Parents completed a detailed questionnaire about socio-demographic factors, dental health, behaviours and diet to account for other reasons for cavities.

"To actually collect the data, we had teams of dental hygienists and clerks who went into the schools and did exams on site," McLaren said.

The findings built on previous research that collected information about children's dental health in Calgary and Edmonton in 2013 and 2014.

At the time, it showed a 56.6 per cent prevalence of dental cavities in baby teeth in Calgary, and 58.7 per cent in Edmonton.

But in the five years between studies, that changed.

"Dental cavities have gotten worse in Calgary kids, but not in Edmonton kids, over this time period," McLaren said.

"This is a largely preventable problem, and in the absence of fluoridation, we're doing virtually nothing in the way of primary prevention in Calgary."

'Very serious'

Health Canada recommends water be fluoridated to a level of 0.7 mg/L to prevent tooth decay.

The City of Calgary has said it saves about $750,000 a year by not adding fluoride to the water, but it's holding another plebiscite this fall on whether to restore it.

In 2019, pediatric specialist Dr. Cora Constantinescu told council that since fluoride was removed from Calgary drinking water, dental infections that need to be treated by IV antibiotics have increased by 700 per cent at the Alberta Children's Hospital. Half of those infections are in children under five.

McLaren said cavities can be quite painful for kids. Sometimes, they can impair children's ability to concentrate and learn.

"Dental cavities for kids under age six is actually the No. 1 reason for day surgery, and almost all of those surgeries are performed under general anesthetic, so that's very serious," McLaren said.

"[And] the health of your baby teeth are actually very predictive of the health of your adult teeth. So, it by no means stops when those baby teeth fall out."

With files from Sarah Rieger and the Calgary Eyeopener.


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