The debate over reintroducing fluoride into Calgary’s water supply will continue for the next few months.
On Monday, city council voted 13-2 in favour of having research done before making a decision on fluoride’s future.
The University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health will conduct the study, looking at jurisdictions where tooth decay is decreasing and seeing if fluoride is a factor. It will also complete a cost-benefit analysis of water fluoridation versus more direct dental interventions, and a comparison of Calgary and Edmonton practices.
The findings will be presented to council in June.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart was shocked that the debate will be revisited after it was rejected two-and-a-half years ago.
“Today we did much better than we did in 2016,” she said, referencing when city council said no to reassessing fluoride in tap water.
Plebiscites don’t always give the best results when it comes to public health policy, especially with close results in past votes, Colley-Urquhart said. The chemical additive is an issue that gets people riled up, she added.
“It’s broader than just fluoride,” Colley-Urquhart said. “It’s really about oral health. It’s a social determinants of health… Hopefully, with the work [the researchers will] go away and do, it will help us build a case to get the province to step in and assist with whatever the outcome of this whole process is.
Fluoride facts from the faucet
The optimal level of fluoride in water is 0.7 milligrams per litre, according to Health Canada.
In Calgary, fluoride naturally occurs in the Bow and Elbow rivers between 0.1 to 0.4 mg/L.
Calgarians voted against adding fluoride to drinking water in 1957, 1961 and 1971, according to the City of Calgary.
In a 1989 plebiscite, fluoridation was approved and was added to drinking water by 1991.
After a 1998 review recommended that the city reduce the fluoride level in water to 0.7 mg/L from 1.0 mg/L, the change was made official in 1999, following another plebiscite.
The city stopped adding fluoride to the water in May 2011, which reportedly saved $750,000 per year.
In 2016, city council rejected a motion to revisit the debate.
LISTEN: Juliet Guicon of Calgarians for Kids’ Health joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss why flouride should be added to Calgary’s water system