Deadpool can grow new teeth but we can’t. Let’s fluoridate

PROVINCE by Paul Dechene

Fluoridated fish | by Paul Klassen

Two big “nopes” echoed from the mayor’s office over the past few weeks.

First, when an online petition appeared calling for a statue honouring Deadpool, a superhero from a blockbuster film whose hometown turns out to be Regina, Mayor Fougere seemed to dismiss the petition on Facebook.

And then, when a report came out of Alberta showing that cavity rates in Calgary children shot up after that city ended its water fluoridation program, local media reported that Fougere was also not inclined to start adding the cavity-fighting chemical to our under-fluoridated water supply.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading so I contacted the mayor to confirm for myself that he actually is a “nope” on municipal water fluoridation and a “nope” on the Deadpool statue.

“That’s a big segue,” laughs Mayor Fougere. “How do you connect the two?”

I’ll answer that later.

On the Deadpool issue, he clarifies that he isn’t against the statue, just against the city paying for it.

“We have very important issues facing our city. And compared to spending — could be six figures on a [Deadpool] statue — compared to doing something other than that, I think that answers the question,” says Fougere.

But, he adds, if some enterprising individual were to find a way to raise the funds to build a Deadpool statue, then he’d absolutely have a discussion about erecting it somewhere in Regina.

As for municipal water fluoridation, Fougere isn’t so much a hard “nope” as he sees no reason to revisit that topic at this time.

“At this point, no. [There’s] no impetus, no public reaction saying we should do that. I know the report from Calgary, I’ve seen that, our administration is reviewing it right now. I don’t know if you want to make a change based on one report,” he says.

He notes that’s there have only been one or two calls about fluoridation after the report came out of Calgary and that the issue hasn’t really seen much interest in the years since a 1985 referendum in which fluoridation was defeated: 25,631 votes for versus 31,526 against.

And while the mayor waits on a more thorough review by city administration of the University of Calgary study at issue, I can provide a quick summary: Calgary ended its water fluoridation program in 2001 and between 2005 and 2014, the city saw its cavity rates for kids in Grade 2 rise an average of 3.8 tooth surfaces. Meanwhile, in Edmonton, which still fluoridates its water, the cavity rate only rose by 2.1 — almost half the Calgary increase. And the researchers attributed much of that difference to Calgary’s lack of a fluoridation program.

Still, that’s one study. And as it’s been five years since I wrote on municipal water fluoridation (Tooth Of The Matter, June 02, 2011, Prairie Dog), I doubled checked to see if the science had changed at all.

It hasn’t. First off, almost every major health organization still recognizes that municipal water fluoridation is safe and effective, including the World Health Organization, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

I also checked in with Gerry Uswak, the dean of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Dentistry and asked him if water fluoridation still works.

“Yes it does. Does it work to the same level as we saw when it was first implemented? No, because back in the day, [cavities] were endemic. Everybody had them. If you were [cavity] free, that was the weird thing,” he says.

“You’ve had a generation now of community water fluoridation, you’ve got fluoride in food products from community water fluoridation. So in areas where there’s no water fluoridation, they’re still getting fluoride via community fluoridation through [food] products. There’s sort of a pervasive positive effect,” he says

That pervasive impact of fluoridation is called “the halo effect” and refers to the fluoride you pick up from juice, pop, beer and food and beverages that are produced in fluoridated communities.

But, as more and more cities discontinue their programs, that halo effect weakens.

All together, municipal water fluoridation along with the halo effect from fluoridated foodstuffs form a base layer of defence against dental disease. And while losing that may not be a huge problem for people with dental benefits who can therefore afford regular care, for underprivileged populations, research has shown the damage is pronounced.

“We’re seeing a lot of really rampant decay in new Canadians and refugees coming to Saskatoon,” says Uswak. “And First Nations or anyone who has a variety of access-to-care barriers. [Fluoridation is] significantly important for the under-serviced population because for about a dollar per person per year, as long as you drink the water, then at least you’re getting some protective benefit to mitigate your risk of disease.”

As for fears of negative health effects from fluoride — cancers, fluorosis, bone spurs — Uswak notes that the research shows that at the dosages people get in Canada, the dangers of fluoride are negligible.

“If someone says to us, fluoride’s a poison. Yeah, so is chlorine. It’s the same thing but we accept chlorine because it purifies our water. Some people don’t accept fluoride because they think it sullies their water. There’s the political edge of things: ‘It’s mass medication without informed consent.’

“And you know what? I can see people’s point. I’m to the point where now whenever I talk about water fluoridation, I say, you know, it’s up to you. I can respect your rights and if you choose to use the democratic process and have referenda and vote to have it taken out, I’ll support that. But I’ll tell you, I think [fluoridation] works and here’s the downside: your dental costs going up over time without fluoride. That’s what’s happening in Calgary: increased decay.”

I guess that’s where it ends then. Despite the science being on the side of Team Fluoride, Regina has had three referenda since the 50s and our city has always chosen Team Cavity. And there doesn’t seem much interest in revisiting that debate.

In fact, as I mentioned to Mayor Fougere, there seems to be more outcry in the Queen City over the Deadpool statue than over municipal water fluoridation.

“I think you’re absolutely correct,” he replies.

That was my connection between the two issues. And I’m not sure if it’s more indicative of our general decay in dental health. Or our culture.