Fluoride to be added back in to Windsor, Tecumseh, LaSalle water systems Wednesday
Mineral was removed in 2013
After years without fluoride, parts of Windsor-Essex will have the mineral added back into drinking water systems Wednesday.
This week, residents in Windsor, Tecumseh and LaSalle will have fluoride flowing into their water systems for the first time since 2013. During a media briefing Monday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's (WECHU) acting medical officer of health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said this is a "positive step."
"As a public health intervention, fluoridation of water is a good thing," Nesathurai said.
"Having better dental health is good for the community overall — it's particularly good for people of more disadvantaged social backgrounds."
The reintroduction of fluoride will cap off a lengthy saga over the mineral, which is added to water to prevent tooth decay but can increase the risk of an enamel discolouration known as fluorosis if children consume more than recommended.
Fluoride had been added to the water in Windsor for decades, but in 2013, city councillors voted to discontinue its use.
Some Windsor city council members initially argued that fluoride could be obtained from toothpaste and other critics have presented general fears over adding chemicals to water supplies.
Council reversed that decision in 2018, though Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens was one of three council members who were against bringing fluoride back.
In order to proceed, approval was also needed from Tecumseh or LaSalle council, which share Windsor's water supply. The green light came in April 2019 from Tecumseh.
The re-introduction of fluoride into the system has been expected and the date was announced in a news release from ENWIN Utilities on Monday.
Initially, fluoridation was expected to happen in November 2020, but a recommended assessment held it back by a year. In 2021, it was further delayed due to COVID-19.
WECHU CEO Nicole Dupuis said the health unit has been an "advocate" for returning fluoride to the water system and stated that it will help the oral health of the community.
"We know in Windsor-Essex, that our oral health disease and issues related to oral health are significant here and much worse than the province," she said.
According to the latest oral health report from WECHU, the percentage of children with "decay and/or requiring urgent care" in 2016/2017 increased by 51 per cent compared to 2011/2012.
"The most alarming trend was the three-fold increase in the proportion of children eligible for topical fluorides," the report reads.
It said the removal of fluoride in 2013 may "explain the increase in children eligible for topical fluoride."
'Science is very strong'
For one Windsor dentist, an increase in tooth decay was noticeable among patients in the last number of years, making the change to the water welcome news.
"Dental decay is the second most common disease that affects children next to the common cold," said Dr. Charles Frank, a dentist in Windsor and also the president of the Ontario Dental Association.
"The science is very strong. I mean thousands of studies done on effective community water fluoridation and none of them, none of the credible studies, have ever shown that fluoride is harmful at the recommended level," continued Frank in an interview with CBC.
Frank said while fluoride is very effective in preventing decay, residents probably won't notice a significant change in the protection of their teeth for another six months to a year.
It takes time for the fluoride to reach a high enough concentration level in teeth to make a significant difference, according to Frank. He said now that fluoride will be in the water locally, residents shouldn't change dental care routines and can keep using toothpastes with fluoride added in.
Frank said residents also shouldn't be concerned about surpassing recommended levels of the mineral.
"The recommended level, it's physically impossible to drink that much water that the fluoride would cause an [adverse] effect. It's kept at a relative low level but high enough to be effective, but low enough that there are no risks involved," he said.
Changes come after treatability study completion
The reintroduction of the mineral in the water comes after a treatability assessment, a review of fluoride additives, as well a study using the Windsor Utilities Commission's pipe test loop to ensure no adverse effects to its corrosion control program.
Garry Rossi, vice president of water operations with ENWIN, told CBC News these processes ensure the safety of reintroducing the fluoride after several years. He said the studies ultimately recommend adding the mineral.
"The intricate piece is obviously programming it into our automated data system and ensuring that, you know, troubleshooting, making sure everything is foolproof before something like this is completed and installed," he said.
Rossi said the installation of the necessary infrastructure and the steps taken prior to reintroducing the fluoride falls within the $850,000 budget for the project. He said moving forward the system will cost about $150,000 annually.
ENWIN will continue to monitor the pipe loop after the implementation to ensure pilot data is consistent with actual drinking water system sample results, and to collect further seasonal data.
Rossi said the public should not notice a difference in the taste, smell or colour of the water come Wednesday, once the mineral is reintroduced.