Dumping fluoridation should require plebiscite

Red Deer may not be far behind Calgary city council’s recent decision to stop adding fluoride to its municipal water.

Red Deer may not be far behind Calgary city council’s recent decision to stop adding fluoride to its municipal water.

Fluoridation doesn’t sit well with some local residents.

Over the years, there have been a handful of local adversaries. But the only time the process of adding fluoride to Red Deer’s drinking water to prevent tooth decay stopped was when supplies of the chemical compound ran low a few years ago.

The process restarted in 2009, about a year after it stopped, once the city was able to re-establish supplies.

The City of Red Deer adds fluoride to municipal water under the direction of a plebiscite — a majority voted said yes to it. The problem with that plebiscite is that is was held a long time ago — in the 1950s.

Still, dental associations in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, continue to support fluoridation of water, even though there are other sources of fluoride available now, such as in toothpaste.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control actually lists fluoridation of public water systems as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Alberta Health Service supports the City of Red Deer’s water fluoridation. About 75 per cent (2.7 million) of Albertans have fluoridated water. In the U.S., 170 million people have fluoridated water (over half of Americans).

The argument is simple: fluoride in municipal drinking water reduces cavities and there is no health risk. It’s inexpensive to fluoridate water — less than $1 per year per person.

On the other hand, the naysayers, including Red Deer city council newbie Paul Harris, have concerns.

A small group of people belong to a Facebook page, “Citizens United to remove Fluoride from Red Deer’s water supply.” The online page only had only 126 members as of Monday. They have a long ways to go at that rate.

Those who oppose fluoridation argue that “medicating” the entire population doesn’t make sense. They are concerned there may be negative health and environmental affects from adding fluoride to community water systems. And some see it as an issue of personal choice — individuals should be able decide if they want fluoride or not.

That same argument was once made in relation to seatbelts.

More power to those who oppose fluoridation if they can get municipal voters excited about something. But rather than argue for the city to stop fluoridation, they should spend their energies arguing for a new plebiscite.

When a plebiscite is used to decide something, re-examining the decision of that plebiscite should require council to go back to voters. Calgary council made the decision last week without the benefit of a plebiscite.

We’re a long ways from another civic election — October 2013 — so there’s time for a good discussion and for the electorate to become informed on the issues surrounding fluoridation.

I’ve been “on fluoride” my entire life. I’m OK with it.

Would it bother me if the city stopped the process? Probably not. I’m lucky, because I have a dental plan.

But those not as fortunate might have something to say — even a simple checkup and teeth cleaning costs over $200. It’s even more expensive to get cavities fixed.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.