If I could convince Calgarians to vote on one issue in the upcoming municipal elections, it wouldn’t be the one that’s in the headlines – whether to subsidize the Flames’ billionaire owners in their quest for a new arena. Instead, it would be to punish those idiotic councillors who voted in 2011 to remove fluoride from our drinking water.
Some of them are still on council, which is a shame given the negligence that has created a generation of kids from low-income homes with rotten teeth. The kids – essentially sugar-munching guinea pigs for Calgary’s social experiment – are the innocent victims of this wrong-headed policy.
The fury is fuelled by looking back at the comments from councillors at the time. They convinced themselves that moms and dads – some of whom are worried about just making the rent – would step up and be fastidious about the dental care of their children when fluoride was removed from the water. Maybe the parents in the councillors’ upper middle class neighbourhoods could do that, but the children in communities that can least afford a visit to the dentist weren’t going to.
Coun. Druh Farrell argued at the time that helping families who couldn’t afford fluoridated toothpaste would be a better idea than giving it to the entire population. Did the city hand out free tubes of toothpaste? No.
Is it surprising? Probably not, since the bourgeoisie has always been quite tone deaf to those from other social and income strata. After all, if parents were really concerned about the fluoride issue, why didn’t they just show up at the Glencoe Club to explain themselves?
During the debate, Coun. Jim Stevenson said there just wasn’t enough evidence to support continuing to add fluoride to city water.
Let’s look at the evidence now.
In February, the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services released the results of a study of about 5,000 Grade 2 pupils in Calgary and Edmonton. The Calgary children were drinking fluoride-free water and those in Edmonton continue to ingest fluoride.
The study found there were more cavities in both Calgary and Edmonton over the period of the study, but it got worse in Calgary, where fluoridation was stopped, than in Edmonton. There were an average of 3.8 surface cases per student in Calgary, and 2.1 in Edmonton. Researchers concluded the cause is clear – cutting out fluoride has resulted in more tooth decay.
“We systematically considered a number of other factors … and in the end, everything pointed to fluoridation cessation being the most important factor,” said researcher Lindsay McLaren.
At least Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra – who supported the fluoride end in 2011 for cost reasons – admits that if council knew then what it knows today, it would have continued adding fluoride to the water.
But Farrell? There appears to be no such contrition.
“It’s oversimplified to think that fluoride is the silver bullet and it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to look at issues of poverty, access to dental care, access to a healthy diet and lack of equity,” she said shortly after the report was made public.
Pow. Talk about deflecting.
There’s no question that public health authorities could and should invest more energy into educating the public on the importance of dental hygiene. Yet, regardless of that, there is one simple – and relatively inexpensive – way to meaningfully reduce the rate of tooth decay in our children: fluoride in drinking water.
Poor dental health in childhood becomes a lifelong burden for kids who can least afford it. Failing to take this simple preventive step will have enduring consequences for those people right into adulthood. Maybe council can find some money to pay for dentures.
Here’s a better idea. This fall, if you live in Calgary and a council candidate knocks on your door, ask them where they stand on fluoridation of our water. If they’re not squarely behind restoring this safe and simple treatment as quickly as possible, then you know they have their head in the clouds.
For the sake of our kids, get the fluoride deniers off council.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.