Calgary delays return of fluoride to water supply; new study supports reintroduction

Click to play video: 'Calgary delays reintroduction of fluoride to water supply as new study shows poor dental outcomes for Calgary children'
Calgary delays reintroduction of fluoride to water supply as new study shows poor dental outcomes for Calgary children
The City of Calgary's plan to reintroduce fluoride back into the drinking water supply has been delayed again. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, the announcement comes as a new study comparing the oral health of children in Calgary and Edmonton, shows discontinuing fluoridation appears to negatively affect oral health – Apr 13, 2024

There has been another delay in the reintroduction of fluoride to Calgary’s drinking water.

The reinstatement of fluoride was expected to be completed in September but the city said construction of the required infrastructure upgrades at the Glenmore and Bearspaw Water Treatment Plants is now expected to wrap up in the first quarter of 2025.

Fluoride was removed from the city’s drinking water in 2011, and city officials said the infrastructure was decommissioned and removed following the decision to stop fluoridation.

In a statement to Global News on Friday, a city spokesperson said that construction started in September of 2023 and the city had anticipated the system would be ready this fall.

“This date was set with an understanding that timelines may change due to ongoing uncertainty with the global supply chain.” the city’s statement said.

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“As a result of this global uncertainty and industry resource competition, we now anticipate the system will be in service by Q1 2025. This date also reflects an integrated schedule built in collaboration with our general contractor and city administration,” the statement continued.

In November of 2021, city council voted to approved the reintroduction of fluoride after a plebiscite was held that showed 62 per cent support for the mineral to be added to the drinking water in Calgary.

Click to play video: 'Flouride debate back at Calgary city council'
Flouride debate back at Calgary city council

Dr. James Dickinson was part of a campaign in 2021, to get fluoride back into the city’s drinking water.

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“The water supply people have known since then that they had to do this. It’s going to be another year and that’s just appalling,” said Dickinson, a professor of family medicine and community health sciences at the University of Calgary.

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“There’s a whole group of children growing up without fluoride and it’s going to show in their teeth,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said it’s a very dilute amount of fluoride that is added to the drinking water.

“It’s about looking after everybody in society. It’s all very well to say ‘no we can do this individually,’ but it’s much easier and much better to do it as a society, as a whole. It’s a matter of looking after one another,” Dickinson said.

“We have a whole series of people who can’t afford toothbrushes. It’s really an easy thing to do,” Dickinson said. “Only a very tiny amount of fluoride and it makes all the difference to a lot of people.”

The re-introduction of fluoride into Calgary’s drinking water is not only taking longer but is more costly than originally anticipated.

The implementation cost for infrastructure at the two water treatment plants has grown to $28.1 million, up from the original estimates of $10.1 million.

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A new study conducted by dental researchers at the University of Alberta, released this week in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, shows that discontinuing water fluoridation appears to negatively affect young children’s oral health, “potentially leading to a significant increase in caries-related dental treatments under general anesthesia.”

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The study revealed oral health disparities in the pediatric population studied in Calgary and Edmonton.

It examined the rate of caries-related, as knowns as tooth decay, dental treatments under general anesthesia (GA) in fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities in Alberta between 2010 and 2019.

 The study included children living in Calgary (non-fluoridated) and Edmonton (fluoridated) who underwent caries-related dental treatments under GA at publicly funded facilities.

The results showed that among 2,659 children receiving caries-related treatments under GA, 65% resided in the non-fluoridated area.

The analysis revealed that the cessation of water fluoridation was significantly associated with an increased rate of caries-related GA events per 10,000 children in both age groups (0-5 and 6-11 years), with a more pronounced effect in 0-5-year-olds in non-fluoridated areas.

Dickinson said the study confirms what was already known.

“Dentists have been telling us since we lost fluoride that they’re getting more and more young children coming in with bad dental problems. It’s increasing as a whole in the community and this new paper is talking about the worst end of the scale. The ones who were so bad, they required general anesthetic to have major dental work done,” Dickinson said.

He said the study shows the rates of dental treatments under anesthesia have risen steadily in Calgary since the loss of fluoridation.

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For children under five years old, the rate of dental treatments under anesthesia doubled from 22 per 100,000 in 2010-11 to 45 per 100,000 in 2018-19.

The rates went from 18 to 24 in Edmonton, where the water is fluoridated.

Dickinson said  even a single cavity happening in the permanent teeth of a child can have life long impacts.

“At some stage in the process you end up with a tooth that needs a crown or maybe one that gets to a root canal. It gets to be really expensive so starting off with having healthy teeth as children makes a huge difference to the whole of  life and the cost of dental care,” Dickinson said.

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