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Calgary City Council rejects U of C research on fluoridated water

By Scott Strasser, September 20 2016 —

On Sept. 13, Calgary City Council rejected a motion to review a study from University of Calgary researchers on the effects of fluoridated drinking water.

Councillors Peter Demong, Diane Colley-Urquhart and Richard Pootmans brought forth the motion that would have reopened a decades-long debate among city council regarding the fluoridation of Calgary’s water supply.

The motion, which proposed engaging the researchers behind the objective study, failed in a 9–5 vote.

The study in question was published in February in the scientific journal “Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology” by researchers from the U of C, the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services.

Cumming School of Medicine researcher Lindsay McLaren was the lead author of the study, which examined 5,000 children.

Researchers found an increase in tooth decay among second grade students in Calgary since fluoride was removed from the city’s drinking water in 2011.

The study also found increased tooth decay among children in Edmonton of the same age, though not as severe as in Calgary. Edmonton still fluoridates its drinking water.

“We observed across the full sample an increase in primary tooth decay in both cities, but the magnitude of the increase was greater in Calgary than in Edmonton,” reads the study’s results section. 

Fluoride hasn’t been present in Calgary’s water supply since city council voted 10–3 in favour to stop fluoridating the city’s drinking water in 2011.

Councillors justified their decision in 2011 by saying there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove fluoridated water provided any significant health benefits. Some councillors — including Coun. Dru Farrell — stated that fluoride could be accessed through other sources, including toothpaste.

Furthermore, at the time of the 2011 vote, council estimated the costs to upgrade the city’s fluoride injection system to be around $10 million, with ongoing maintenance costs of $1 million annually.

But McLaren said the February study indicated clear signs that a lack of fluoride in water led to the increase in tooth decay among Calgarian children.

“We designed the study so we could be as sure as possible that [the increased tooth decay] was due to [fluoride] cessation rather than other factors,” she said in an interview with the CBC after the study was published. “We systematically considered a number of other factors. In the end, everything pointed to fluoridation cessation being the most important factor.”

The day after last week’s failed motion, city council asked Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to write to Alberta Health Services asking the provincial health authority to explore the issue.

“This letter ‘ain’t going to amount to a hill of beans, but if you want me to write it, I’ll write it,” Nenshi told councillors on Sept. 14.

Prior to council’s decision in 2011 to stop fluoridation, the debate had gone on in Calgary for almost 60 years.

Other major Canadian cities that do not fluoridate water include Vancouver, Montreal and Victoria.

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