Windsor to put fluoride back into the water after council vote

Council voted 8-3 at Monday night's meeting, ending a five-year moratorium on removal of fluoride from Windsor's water.

Council voted 8-3 in 2013 to remove it, and 8-3 in 2018 to put it back

Windsor's water hasn't been fluoridated for five years.

After a five-year moratorium, Windsor will be seeing fluoride in the water again.

City council voted 8-3 in favour of the reintroduction of fluoride. Back in 2013, council voted 8-3 to take it out after more than 50 years of water fluoridation.

The issue was a controversial one with 16 delegates lined up to speak, and 59 emails received by the city clerk ahead of the meeting. The debate went on for hours.

One of the delegates was Dr. Wajid Ahmed, acting medical officer of health with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. According to the Oral Health 2018 report released by the health unit, the percentage of children with tooth decay or requiring urgent care has increased by 51 per cent in 2016-17 compared to 2011-12.

However, Mayor Drew Dilkens, who voted to have fluoride taken out five years ago did not change his stance. He joined Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis and Ward 5 Coun. Ed Sleiman in casting dissenting votes.

"Fluoride is one tool for good oral health, we all know that, but it's not the only tool," Dilkens said before the meeting.

Dilkens said fluoridated toothpaste is the "number-one thing" people can use to protect their teeth. He also suggested Healthy Smiles, the provincial program for low-income families to send their kids to receive free dental care.

City council voted 8-3 to bring fluoride back into the water. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

However, Joyce Zuk, executive director of Family Services Windsor-Essex doesn't agree that toothpaste is enough. 

She said requests for dental assistance at the organization have gone up by 300 per cent from 2014 to 2018. 

"I'm not trained in science," said Zuk. "When we don't know the answer, we look to our experts to provide us with an answer. And in this case, our experts are the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit."

Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, who voted against taking fluoride out five years ago, kept her stance this time. She said even though water fluoridation is "not a silver bullet" in solving dental problems in the community, "it's going to go a heck of a long way."

Mixed reviews

Some delegates wrote that they don't want fluoride in their water because they are worried about potential adverse health effects, while others want to have a choice for what they get to consume.

Francis agrees with the latter point. 

He said he heard no evidence showing a "direct correlation" between taking away fluoride and the significant increase in tooth decay over the last five years, as mentioned in the oral health report.

"Without a direct correlation, I cannot vote to take away personal consent. I can't do it," said Francis.

Dental professionals have written to the city clerk, saying water fluoridation is an easy and cheap way to improve dental health for all people. (The Canadian Press)

Health professionals say concerns over fluoride aren't founded on any scientific evidence. 

"This is a safe and cost-effective way to improve the oral health status of everyone in the community," wrote Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta, past president of Halton-Peel Dental Association.

"I have seen how easily people living in non-fluoridated areas get cavities — something that could have been prevented."

Others argued that fluoridating water will help improve the health of the entire population, including those who can't afford to see a dentist regularly.

Dilkens thinks the decision shouldn't be made at the municipal level at all, and Ward 7 Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk agrees.

However, Kusmierczyk voted in favour of reintroduction of fluoride because of "compelling" numbers from the health experts who spoke.

"I think rather than waiting for the province of Ontario to act … I think we have an opportunity to do something that the experts here tell us makes a difference," he said.

The money saved from stopping fluoridation over the past five years has been diverted for oral health and nutrition education in the region.

Now that Windsor is putting fluoride back in, Enwin Utilities estimates a one-time cost of $850,000, as the old equipment is no longer available for reuse.

Ongoing costs would total roughly $105,000 to purchase the fluoride each year.

With files from Chris Ensing

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