BLOG #648: A lot has happened in London in the 46 years since a significant majority of voters approved the fluoridation of the water supply. It’s time to ask again whether this is still seen as the best way to assure better dental health in children.
Monday, April 23, 2012 - London
In 1966, as part of the municipal election, voters in London approved by a margin of almost 60 per cent to 40 a proposal to fluoridate the city’s drinking water as a preventative measure against dental illness. The program began the following September and has continued ever since.
A lot has happened in London, in Canada, in the world in the intervening 46 years. One wonders whether a similar plebiscite would pass today.
That really is the crux of the argument – to be revisited again late this afternoon at a meeting of city council’s civic works committee – about whether it is appropriate to add what is, in large doses, a lethal poison to the drinking supply of every single person whether they wish it or not.
Governments do have that power; there is no denying that. Adding fluoride in the marginal quantities mandated by provincial regulation is perfectly legal once approved by a plebiscite in which at least 50 per cent of those eligible voted.
But in most cases where the law is universally applied, and certainly everywhere else in the health care field, there are exemptions or exclusions or the ability to opt out.
For example, in Ontario vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and polio is required by law for all children attending school – unless exempted for medical or religious grounds and reasons of conscience. Immunization is not mandatory in this country, Health Canada says, even though we know those diseases are killers.
That doesn’t quite apply with fluoridation. If you drink the water you get the dosage. Whether you have perfect teeth or no teeth, there are no exemptions, only alternatives such as bottled water, are far, far more costly and, soft drinks and fruit juices, laden with teeth-decaying sugar.
Of course you could move, although fluoridation is hard to escape in Ontario. The drinking water consumed by an estimated 9 million residents – 75 per cent of our population – is fluoridated.
One thing that has happened in London since 1966 is enormous strides in the general health and well-being of its citizens. We generally eat better, if too much; we have better dental care. The medical and dental arguments made 46 years ago for fluoridation may not be so solid today.
How much of that improvement in our dental health is attributable to fluoridated water? Hard to tell, although that’s certainly one of the many points on which those who favour it and those who don’t disagree.
Indeed disagreement is one of the big difficulties in the debate that has been swirling here, and in many other Canadian communities, for several years. The two sides are polarized.
The pros stand on a long list of official government reports and studies which repeat, over and over, that fluoridation does not pose a health risk but are far less precise in showing unequivocal results. The cons toss around the possible dangers as if millions of people were on death’s door because they drank fluoridated water.
But what if I don’t want to? Should Londoners have a choice?
If the dental health of our children is the issue – and according to the Ontario Dental Association it is – are there alternatives to mandatory fluoridation in the water supply?
Generally the experts agree the direct application of a fluoride treatment to the teeth is far more effective. Middlesex-London Health Unit could put in place a fluoride treatment program for young children that probably would be more effective. Parents could opt out of the program if they wished. That’s essentially how the immunization program is handled in this province.
On that basis it would not be unreasonable for the civic works committee today to recommend that city council hold a plebiscite on fluoridation as part of the 2014 civic election. That would certainly provide ample time for an education program on the pros and cons.
The people voted it in; the people should be given an opportunity to vote it out if that is what the majority now wish.