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Student initiative at U of C calls to support water fluoridation this municipal election

By Cristina Paolozzi, October 1 2021—

While the municipal election is approaching, Calgarians will be asked to vote on several different issues at the ballot box. 

One of these issues — water fluoridation — has been a heated topic among Calgary residents. However, health science students at the University of Calgary are determined to advocate for the benefits of fluoride in the city’s water. 

Kurt Wilde, Chloe Pekarsky and Duaa Fatima are all members of the group Fluoride: Pay it Forward, which is comprised of undergraduate students and aims to educate those on how exactly water fluoridation could help the most vulnerable people in the city. 

Wilde mentioned that he first became involved with Fluoride: Pay it Forward when one of his professors, Dr. Juliet Guichon, reached out to recruit some students to the initiative. 

Photo of Fluoride: Pay it Forward group // courtesy Fluoride: Pay it Forward

Although two plebiscites were held in Calgary in 1989 and 1998, the results of which supported water fluoridation, city council discontinued water fluoridation in 2011. Fatima mentioned that because many students in university now have benefitted from water fluoridation in their early years, the group is called to “pay it forward” so that children and other vulnerable groups may also benefit from this public health measure.  

“The campaign itself is a student-led organization that Guichon was overseeing,” said Fatima. “But the reason why it’s primarily student-led is because our focus and target audience is students. It’s supposed to be a message from students to students who really benefited from fluoridation.” 

Wilde also said that this issue is important during the municipal election as it impacts children the most. He said that Fluoride: Pay it Forward has spoken with a number of dental professionals who say that water fluoridation acts as a barrier for children against dental decay.   

Photo of Kurt Wilde // courtesy Fluoride: Pay it Forward

“Really, our focus is on children,” said Wilde. “Right now, we’re seeing a lot of children that are suffering having to undergo very difficult procedures to fix severe cavities. Fluoride is a public health measure that’s not going to prevent all cavities, but it’s going to act kind of like a seatbelt — it’s a prevention mechanism.” 

Pekarsky said that most major cities in the United States and Canada have fluoride in their water, which reflects better dental health for the children in those cities than the children in Calgary. She also mentioned that both plebiscites that took place saw Calgarians in support of water fluoridation, and said this issue is a way for Calgarians to “reestablish” this support. 

Photo of Chloe Pekarsky // courtesy Fluoride: Pay it Forward

Fatima spoke more on some of the misconceptions around water fluoridation, and that some Calgarians aren’t as receptive to change and are quick to assume that what is being added to the water is in fact harmful. 

“Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that’s already present in our current water system, and we drink it everyday,” she said. “Fluoridation is just the issue of adjusting that current level to the therapeutic level of 0.7 parts per million, so that we can actually reap the benefits of having fluoride in the water.” 

Photo of Duaa Fatima // courtesy Fluoride: Pay it Forward

Wilde made the similarity between water fluoridation and iodizing salt or adding calcium to milk. 

“[This] is practiced in a lot of different products where we’re adding in other nutritious elements, but for some reason, I guess it has a bad reputation,” said Wilde. “It’s completely unfounded and there’s no scientific basis behind the negative claims about fluoride.” 

Pekarsky said that another thing to be mindful of is that water fluoridation benefits the greater good of the community. 

“This is a universal thing that will benefit everyone no matter what their background is,” she said. “You still need to brush your teeth and eat healthy, but why not add this extra level of security to help everyone out?” 

Fatima said that, overall, water fluoridation ultimately makes dental care more accessible to vulnerable Calgarians.

“Fluoridation is effective and safe,” said Fatima. “It’s the most cost-effective way to deliver fluoride to everyone in our community as it just requires them to turn on the tap.” 

The municipal election will take place Oct. 18, with the advanced voting period taking place Oct. 4–10. To find out more about Fluoride: Pay it Forward, check out their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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