Tooth decay rates rising in Windsor, say health officials

Three years after Windsor decided to stop water fluoridation, the region's health unit is reporting a rise in tooth decay rates.
Tooth decay rates are on the rise in Windsor, according to the latest report from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. (Michael Conroy/The Associated Press)

Tooth decay rates have spiked in Windsor, Ont. according to the latest report from the region's health unit.

The proportion of children that required urgent dental care increased by 10 per cent between 2011 and 2015. The number of children who did not need care decreased by 24 per cent.

The "most alarming" trend was the two-fold increase in the proportion of children eligible for topical fluorides, a change of 122 per cent over the same time period, according to the report.

"The cessation of community water fluoridation in 2013 in Windsor may explain the increase in children eligible for topical fluoride," the report states.

Compared to Ontario, nearly three times more children in Windsor and Essex County are eligible for topical fluorides.

"In general, children in Windsor-Essex County appear to have greater oral health needs when compared to children in Ontario," the report states. 

Officials with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit would not outright attribute the spike in numbers to the city's decision to stop fluoridating its water supply in 2013. 

Nicole Dupuis, the health unit's director of health promotion, said at Thursday's meeting of the health unit's board of directors there are many factors that led to this increase — not just the decision to drop fluoride. 

But many dentists have no doubt that decision has had an impact on the rates.

"I've talked to a lot of my colleagues in the Windsor area and almost all of them have indicated to me they have seen an increase in decay rates, especially among children," Dr. Arthur Worth told CBC News.

Windsor was warned

The Chatham dentist warned Windsor councillors three years ago about the effect their decision would have. Worth was then president of the Ontario Dental Association. 

"I don't want to say I told you so, but I'm not surprised by what you're going to see coming from the health unit," he said.

Though health officials say three years is not enough time to determine if a lack of water fluoridation is the reason for tooth decay increases, Worth has no doubt council's decision is a major contributor to the latest figures on tooth decay.

"The lack of fluoride would definitely be a significant factor," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt that the lack or reduction or the removal of fluoride has a contributory effect on decay rates."

Windsor Dr. Charles Frank has also seen the increase in tooth decay rates, a trend he attributes to the city's decision back in 2013.

"When they had removed the fluoride about three years ago, I'd suggested there was going to be an increase, or a be a doubling of the decay rate within about two years. Before the two-year mark was up, I did notice there has been a significant increase, particularly among the most vulnerable members of our population."

Dr. Ed Sacilotto is one of the dentists who says more time is needed before determining the true cause behind the spike in tooth decay rates, even though the president of the Essex County Dental Society supports water fluoridation.

"Fluoride definitely helps prevent tooth decay. The problem is, you need to have at least five or six years [of data] before you know," he said.

Provincial support

MPP for Mississauga-Streetsville Bob Delaney has resurrected a petition he circulated in 2014, which calls on the Ontario government to make fluoridation mandatory in all municipal drinking water.

He has the support of Health Minister Eric Hoskins, who urged all municipalities in January to support the fluoridation of drinking water. Delaney told CBC News a bill could be presented at Queen's Park before the end of the year.

"Instead of a patchwork quilt of individual municipal regulations across the province, it's now time to set a mandatory provincial minimum standard," he said.

Several anti-fluoridation groups disagree with such regulations, including one group of residents from the Windsor. Fluoride Free Windsor was one of the loudest voices urging the city to remove fluoride back in 2013.