The Current

Tooth decay up in Calgary kids after fluoride removed from drinking water: study

Professionals in dental health believe there's a link between tooth decay and Calgary's choice five years ago to pull fluoride out of the water. But the city's elected officials aren't interested in the details.
In 2011, Calgary voted to get rid of fluoride in water. On Sept. 13, city councillors voted against any move to re-open the flouridation debate. (Bill Hughes/Press-Enterprise via AP, File)

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A study from earlier this year suggests the problem with tooth decay is much worse for Calgary kids than for their counterparts in Edmonton, which fluoridates its water.

Calgary stopped adding fluoride to its drinking water in 2011, joining the ranks of many other Canadian cities — including Vancouver, Victoria, Waterloo and Montreal — that don't fluoridate. 

Dental hygienist Denise Kokaram at The Alex Dental Health Bus - a dentist's office on wheels providing free oral health care to less-fortunate families in Calgary. (Michael O'Halloran/CBC)

Dental hygienist Denise Kokaram leads the Alex Dental Health Bus program in Calgary. She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that since fluoride was removed in 2011, tooth decay has increased in thier clients — often vulnerable citizens, working poor and disadvantaged families.

"Typically we will see about a 50 per cent decay rate within this population and that decay rate, although it stayed at about 50 per cent, the degree of disease has increased," says Kokaram. 

Access to dental care, education and proper nutrition also play a role in this increase,  Kokaram says.

On Tuesday night, Calgary city council voted against any move to re-open the fluoridation debate.

Advocates of water fluoridation argue equity is a big issue since tooth decay hits those who can't afford dental care the hardest. (Luis LuCheng/flickr cc)
Jim Stevenson was one of 10 councillors who voted to get rid of fluoride in 2011 and tells Tremonti why he voted to leave everything as is in the most recent vote on the fluoride debate.

"During the entire length of the study that they did, both Calgary and Edmonton have had increased cavity rates during that period of time. Edmonton has never stopped fluoridation but they still have a higher rate of both baby teeth and permanent teeth decay," says Stevenson.

Stevenson has this issue with the study: it started six years before Calgary discontinued fluoride and two years after.

"We don't know whether or not the increase, the trajectory is exactly the same after the fluoride was taken out as before. We're not sure of that."

"Research shows that fluoride is beneficial on the outside of the teeth.. There's nothing that says that fluoride is beneficial for someone to ingest it," says Stevenson.

In The Current's interview, Tremonti points out that Tuesday's motion was not to bring fluoride back but to engage researchers behind the study to get more information.

"There's other things that can be done like better access to care and education and… there should be provincial government support, not city support," says Stevenson.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Ines Colabrese and Calgary network producer Michael O'Halloran.