Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Benefits flow from fluoride

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A series of northern Manitoba communities have voted to ban fluoride from their drinking water, placing their residents at risk on the basis of specious health claims.

Fluoride, a mineral that is found naturally in water, food, soil and some foods, is added to drinking water because it helps prevent dental decay, a useful benefit in northern Manitoba, which has a sizable population of vulnerable people who can't afford dental work and who have poor diets.

Manitoba Health officials warned the northern communities they were making a mistake, but the advice was ignored, even though fluoridation is recommended by the World Health Organization, Health Canada, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States and dental associations worldwide.

Some European countries have abandoned the practice of fluoridating water, not because it is unsafe, but because many people are using bottled water, which means they aren't receiving fluoride. As a result, some countries have been putting fluoride in salt because it's considered a better way of ensuring mass distribution.

Calgary recently abandoned fluoridation, but it may have had more to do with the $6 million bill it was facing to upgrade its fluoridation process than with health concerns. A majority of Calgarians had voted in 1989 to add fluoride, but they weren't give a vote this time.

The City of Winnipeg follows the recommended safe level for fluoridated water set by Health Canada and Manitoba Health.

Some skeptics, however, believe there is no safe level since it is impossible to determine how much water a person is drinking. Too much fluoridated water, they say, could lead to fluorosis, a discolouring of the teeth that affects a small number of children. Of course, too much of anything isn't healthy, but the government has included a wide safety margin in its guidelines for municipal drinking water.

Opponents of fluoridation also claim it is unethical because consumers haven't given their consent to be medicated, yet they don't complain about the way vitamins, minerals and other supplements are regularly added to food and water. Chlorine, for example, can be dangerous in extreme amounts, yet it is added to water to keep it safe. Iodine is added to salt, vitamin D to milk, and so on.

Fluoride is one of the best (and cheapest) measures to prevent tooth decay, which can lead to more serious health problems over time. There is no credible reason, then, for any community to turn off the tap on a proven health benefit.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2011 A12

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