The debate of whether to fluoridate municipal water supplies is frequently a polarizing one with studies and counter studies on both sides.
On Thursday evening the City attempted to inject some balance to assist residents in making up their minds on the future of the additive in the city’s water supply in advance of the Nov. 19 referendum on the issue.
Williams Lake dentist Christine Constabel and University of Calgary professor of medical biophysics James Beck were the invited speakers who presented widely divergent views on the issue during the City’s fluoridation open house at the fire hall.
Constabel’s pro-fluoride stance was supported by four other local dentists who wrote a letter to council in early October indicating their support for the ongoing use of fluoride. The letter stated: “Over 50 years of extensive research through the world has consistently proven how safe and effective fluoride is in the community water supply when it is used appropriately.”
Beck, meanwhile, presented data linking the use of fluoride to harm to some of the body’s functions.
A few members of the City’s water advisory committee that recommended the City explore the issue of municipal fluoridation were also on hand.
John Dressler, chair of the WAC, said when the City asked the committee for a recommendation on fluoridation most members had some opposition to fluoridating on the grounds that it was “unnecessary” due to fluoride occurring naturally in the water system and that the process was costly to the City.
Dressler said there were also doubts about the benefits of fluoridating the water when he said it was questionable how much municipal water the community’s youth actually consumed. Dressler added that with a proportion of the City’s water being used for purposes other than ingestion there wasn’t a benefit to fluoridating.
Beck presented World Health Organization data, noting that the number of decayed, missing and filled teeth in residents had decreased in 18 industrialized countries over a several-decade period: 14 of those countries were not fluoridated and four were.
He presented other data suggesting fluoride could pose potential harm to human teeth, bones, thyroid systems, the reproductive and cardiovascular systems and the brain. Fluoride, said Beck, increases the instances of dental fluorosis which can cause pitting in the tooth enamel leading to cavities.
He indicated it has been tied to decreased thyroid performance and an increase in the occurrence of goiters in fluoridated areas compared to non-fluoridated areas.
He further pointed to data comparing the cities of Montreal, which doesn’t fluoridate, to Toronto that does where the sperm count of men is higher in the former city compared to the latter.
There has also been some studies, said Beck, that suggest a lowering of IQ in areas that have higher fluoridation.
In response, Constabel discounted those claims saying other than dental fluorosis there are no negative effects of fluoridation.
“I don’t believe it,” she said of the alleged harmful effects of fluoride.
She pointed to data indicating fluoridation results in 20 to 40 per cent fewer cavities in children; that fluoride strengthens the formation of adult teeth in children, remineralizes adult and elderly teeth and strengthens weakened tooth surfaces in the elderly.
“It’s been studied world wide and found to be safe,” she said.
Constabel provided a letter written in September from the Interior Health Authority to the city supporting the practice of fluoridation.
The letter stated “Interior Health supports fluoridation as one of the best practices available in the prevention of dental caries (cavities); IH continues to support the fluoridation of drinking water systems for those communities currently fluoridated; IH encourages the fluoridation of drinking system for those communities without fluoridation.”
Constabel further cited the British Columbia Dental Association, which supports the use of fluoridation as “a safe and effective preventative health measure to reduce tooth decay.”
The City is not currently fluoridating its water supply. On Nov. 19 a referendum asking residents whether they want to restart fluoridation will be held in conjunction with the municipal election. A decision to cease fluoridation must be made either by referendum or ministerial assent.