Some opponents of continued fluoridation in Red Deer’s drinking water would like to present the issue as a fait accompli.
Last week, Coun. Paul Harris said it’s only a matter of time before the city halts fluoridation, because it’s happening around the world.
Others with a similar mindset stress the point that it is happening all over Europe. They imply that Europe is a template for all things modern, progressive and sophisticated and folks who support continued fluoridation are rubes.
Europe is surely a world leader in alarmist fearmongering and self-righteous blindness to its own foibles.
It has, for example, a collective pox over genetic modification. Any food products produced this way are invariably labelled Frankenfoods in Europe and shunned as a grave threat to life and limb.
Among those products to be feared on many Euro lists is canola, which we in Alberta know, grow, trust and routinely eat.
Just because Euros love something, does not mean it’s worthy. And just because Euros hate something, does not mean it’s vile.
Blind zeal in Europe has devastated markets for the annual spring seal hunt, which East Coast mariners have pursued for centuries to supplement their meagre incomes. It’s not pretty, but neither is a slaughterhouse.
Meanwhile, many Euros have no qualms about creating and eating delicacies like foie gras, a liver dish created by grossly overfeeding domesticated geese — by force.
As for fluoridation, some things about it are undeniably off centre.
The millions of litres of treated water that goes on Red Deer lawns and gardens every summer create zero health benefits for citizens.
But fluoridated water that goes into the mouths of Red Deer’s children every day creates genuine health benefits, according to some people in the best position to know.
One of the best pieces of evidence on this front was a letter to the editor published in the Advocate late last year (Fluoride fills a vital role, Nov. 30, 2011).
Dr. Jo Scalzo has been a dentist in Red Deer for more than 30 years.
She has looked into the mouths of thousands of area children over the years, and has seen ample evidence demonstrating the dental health benefits of fluoridation.
“When I first came here,” she wrote, “I was amazed to see the lack of caries (decay) and dental restorations (fillings) in children.
“I could identify the location of a person’s upbringing just by looking in their mouth. Where fluoride had been in the drinking water (Red Deer, Lacombe, Wetaskiwin, Edmonton), there were few if any dental restorations (fillings).
“Where fluoride was not in the water (Sylvan Lake, Calgary and some rural and northern communities), the patient had a mouth full of caries, dental restorations (fillings, crowns) and missing teeth.”
Scalzo has no monetary stake in the fluoridation debate. Quite the contrary. She and her dental colleagues would earn more money if their patients had poorer teeth.
But true professionals like her are driven by keeping their patients healthy, not by filling their personal bank accounts.
“If the City of Red Deer takes out fluoride from its drinking water,” her letter continues, “I am afraid to predict what will happen to the oral health of the future generations of our citizens.
“The most vulnerable of our citizens, the children, would be the most affected by the removal of fluoride from the drinking water. They would inevitably look forward to a lifetime of dental problems.
“I would also expect our dental profession to be totally overwhelmed by the increase of caries (decay) that will inevitably be the result of fluoride removal from our drinking water.”
That’s a sobering message, and one that Red Deer city council must take to heart.
Last week, council left $75,000 in the municipal budget to sustain the city fluoridation program while stepping up a citizen-engagement program to determine its fate.
Red Deer city councillors will go online during one-hour sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, to continue hearing views of Red Deer residents (details are available at www.reddeer.ca).
This sort of engagement is wise and worthy. It will give councillors a snapshot of public views.
Chances are, however, that callers won’t be a representative sample of city residents. People seeking change in the status quo are always more likely to call than folks who are satisfied with the way things are now.
That means councillors are more likely to hear from opponents of fluoridation than supporters.
Council has identified three possible paths to resolve the fluoridation issue: a city plebiscite, public consultation or deciding from information in hand.
The best decision will come from gathering the best information, and a plebiscite is not necessarily the preferred route.
When only one eligible voter in four turns out for municipal elections, it would be easy for a group of dedicated opponents to carry the day in a plebiscite.
The best information must include views of informed professionals.
Surely that includes seeking out and according big weight to the knowledge of Scalzo and her dental colleagues.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.