Calgary's decision to remove fluoride in drinking water about five years ago may have worsened tooth decay in kids, a new study in Canada revealed.

Led by Lindsay McLaren of the University of Calgary, a group of researchers compared second grade students in Calgary and Edmonton. Calgary has stopped injecting fluoride in drinking water, but Edmonton still uses it.

The team found that during the study, there were more cavities in both Edmonton and Calgary, but the incidence of dental caries was much worse in Calgary than in Edmonton.

The cause-effect link is evident and clear, McLaren said, as they designed their research to be accurate as possible.

McLaren said they had considered many different factors.

"In the end, everything pointed to fluoridation cessation being the most important factor," she said.

Can Calgary Reconsider Policies?

Health Canada, which is responsible for public health in the country, regulates the quality of drinking water by working together with territories and provinces. The fluoridation of water supplies are decided by each municipality in collaboration with territories or provinces, or in consultation with residents of the area.

Associate Minister of Health in Alberta, Brandy Payne said it is still too soon to reconsider fluoridation policies in view of the study. The findings are relatively new, she said, so they are going to examine the report first and they will "go from there with an evidence-based decision."

The issue of fluoridation has long been a topic of debate in Calgary.

Fluoride is known to be beneficial in reducing the incidence of cavities, but it also has harmful effects.

Fluoride can cause enamel and skeletal fluorosis, where the teeth would experience intrinsic discoloration.

The accumulation of fluoride may even lead to the calcification or hardening of joints and bones, damaging them and causing severe pain.

Covering Dental Health Care

But water fluoridation is the cheapest and most economical method to protect children's dental health, particularly for families who cannot afford dental care, said Denise Kokaram, the Program Lead of the Alex Dental Health Bus conducted by the Alex Community Health Center. 

"It's not unusual for us to see a child with almost full-mouth decay in the population that we're looking at," Kokaram added.

Considering they are in Calgary, Kokaram said they shouldn't be seeing the high degree of tooth decay, but they are.

"To think of that rising [number of cases], and those children suffering and in even more pain, when it's such an easy thing to remedy or at least assist with," she said.

The Alex Community Health Center, a non-profit organization, has treated about 1,700 children and youth in 2015. Of that number, about half had tooth decay. The Alex is continuing to gather its own statistics to follow the decay rate among children and youth.

In 2011, the city council of Calgary had voted 10-3 in favor of stopping the use of fluoride in drinking water. One council member who voted for the removal of fluoride argued that helping families who cannot afford dental care is better than putting fluoride on water supplies.

But McLaren and her colleagues are firm in their report, which is featured in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.

Photo : Jan Fidler | Flickr

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