Healthcare professionals vehemently oppose fluoride removal – baytoday. ca

A proposal that could save $50,000 from the city’s water budget was the cause for outcry from local dental and healthcare professionals at City Hall on Monday night.

After city staff suggested removing the fluoride from the municipal water supply to ease budgetary pressures a few weeks ago, the majority of council supported the service level adjustment during committee discussions.

But upon learning of their initial support and rallying the healthcare community, six passionate

presenters took to the podium in Council Chambers on Monday to convince the politicians that they might be making a mistake.

Some were aggressive and antagonistic, others were enlightening and informative, but the message was unanimous: removing the fluoride in the city’s water supply would be detrimental to the entire community.

Currently, the chemical formula is added to the city’s water supply to, on the most basic level, protect the population from tooth decay and prevent cavities.

After removing it was not supported in recent years, the issue was once again on the budget chopping block by the city’s public works department less than three weeks ago, the basis for which was to reduce pressure to the water and sanitary sewer budget.

But Dr. Jim Chirico, medical officer of health and executive officer for the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, led the charge on Monday night citing a myriad of benefits to using fluoride, including increased public safety, cost-savings, overall effectiveness and reducing social disparity, among many others.

“We know that we’ve had experience for close to 70 years with fluoridated water and we know that it’s safe, it’s effective, it works, it’s cost effective, and more importantly, we need to protect those individuals in our society who may not have a voice – our children, the poor, the elderly, the mentally ill – those who have the least chance of benefiting from going to a dentist because of barriers,” Chirico summarized.

On top of that, he said each dollar invested into a community’s water fluoridation can save up to $38 in dental treatment down the road.

With a photo of a gruesomely decayed teeth on the presentation screens, he also discounted contrarian perspectives for appealing to people’s emotions with fear mongering and said the majority of those who argue against the artificial dosing of the water supply rely on sensationalized, unfounded arguments.

Instead of listening to anecdotal evidence and sensational stories, he argued, people should base their opinion on published medical studies.

Others, like Dr. Fuad Karim of the North Bay and District Dental Society, said the research suggests modern day cavity-causing diets in tandem with the lower socioeconomic status of the city put North Bay at a disadvantage and that fluoridated water helps protect society’s most vulnerable.

“In essence, we actually do see that communities that have people of lower socioeconomic groups have poorer health and poorer oral health, so the point is to some degree valid that in some communities such as Calgary or Vancouver that do have higher income and higher levels of education, they’re more likely to achieve for themselves preventative dental care,” he explained.

“We see that tooth decay is a real issue for the residents of North Bay and we see how it is higher in prevalence amongst poorer groups and disadvantaged groups,” he added.

Members of council also heard from retired dentist Dr. Kevin O’Grady, his wife Sandy O’Grady, Dr. Paul Preston and Dr. Stephane Gauthier, all of whom testified in strong support of the fluoridation.

“If the present council votes to remove fluoride from our municipal water supply, it will be the most heartbreaking decision ever made by one of our councils,” said Mrs. O’Grady. “You will be denying positive dental health care to our unborn grandchildren.”

Coun. Chris Mayne was the most active in questioning the presenters, after having voted in favour of removing the fluoride from the budget a few weeks ago.

“There are arguments that in North Bay we have some of the best drinking water in the province,” said Mayne. “Philosophically, some people would say that a city’s purpose should be simply to provide clean, safe drinking water to the community and if you feel as a benefit to add something to that, then it’s up to your discretion.”

He alluded to the European model, whereby upwards of 95 per cent of municipalities don’t add fluoride to their water supply and, instead, leave it up to individuals to find a fluoride source themselves through milk, salt, fluoride drops or standard toothpaste and mouthwash.

He also brought up the potential workplace hazard that the chemical presents for workers at the water treatment plant.

Water fluoridation is recommended and endorsed by various government and health organizations because the naturally occurring fluoride in water sources is, generally, inadequate in preventing tooth decay.

According to the province’s statistics, 75.9 per cent of Ontario has an artificially fluoridated water supply to supplement the naturally occurring levels that vary from community-to-community.

Other notable communities that don’t add the clear, tasteless and odourless substance to their water, according to university and college-based environmental and community organization Regenesis, include Waterloo, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Timmins, and Orillia.

Closer to North Bay, Mayne said the Timiskaming district and Callander have decided not to add it to their water supply either.

“You have to be careful on how you interpret why other communities get rid of fluoridated water,” said Chirico. “In my opinion, there are two reasons: one, because of costs […] and two, because of politics; because of pressure put on them.

“If you were to make the decision, which they should be making, solely based on the science, the science is solid that fluoridation is protective, it’s safe, it’s effective and it also saves money in the long run,” he continued.

When asked why, if it’s so detrimental not to have fluoridated water, it hasn’t been provincially-mandated, Chirico said that while the government has done an adequate job in investing in the Healthy Smiles Ontario Program for those younger than 17-years-old, it’s something he would like to see it happen.

“Public health was initially the sole responsibility of the municipalities and the government gave them the authority to regulate it,” he explained. “I think that now governments are recognizing it, especially in Ontario, and they’re putting a lot more money into oral health because they realize it’s so important.”

A BayToday reader poll cast at the end of October showed that 46 per cent of 927participants didn’t support the proposal to remove the fluoride supply, while 39 percent were in favour of removal.

Meanwhile, Engineering and Works Committee chair Tanya Vrebosch said the issue will continue to be subject of public consultation and the decision will not be rushed.

The committee continues their budget discussions on Tuesday night, when the fluoride issue will be brought to the forefront once again.

Vrebosch said that if she and committee vice-chair Mayne can’t find consensus on the matter, then they will postpone the discussion to remove the fluoride until early 2016, which wouldn’t have an impact until the 2017 budget.

But after Monday’s strong turnout from the local experts though, Mayne said he thinks council’s opinion will be swayed.

“I suspect a lot of people will have changed their positions,” Mayne said after the meeting. “Last year it didn’t come forward because there didn’t seem to be any support from around the table, so even myself, I was surprised with the level of support this year […] but I think a lot of the initial opinion was based on a budget perspective.

“There were some very good presentations here this evening from the medical and dental community, so I don’t expect the fluoride will be removed from the community water supply,” he added. “I think it’s fair to say that if it comes to a vote tomorrow afternoon, I would be pleased to support continuing fluoridation in the community water supply.”

Tuesday’s water and wastewater operating budget discussion is at 5:45 pm in the fifth floor boardroom at City Hall.