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Fluoride debate returns to Regina through water treatment plant upgrades

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The City of Regina’s attempts to fluoridate its water — as is done in many major Canadian cities — have failed many times over the years. But now that major upgrades are approved for the local water treatment plant, local officials are again set to debate the dental health protection measure in August.

The city has previously held referendums on fluoridation in 1954, 1958, 1965 and most recently, in 1985. Throughout the city’s history, however, there have been vocal pockets of anti-fluoridation groups that have kept fluoride out of the water system with claims that it is not only ineffective but toxic and linked to various health issues.

According to reports about the new upgrades set for the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant, space is being made available in the new design to accommodate fluoridation equipment. Implementing the program would cost an estimated $2 million for a one-time equipment purchase and then about $210,000 per year for fluoride supplies.

At Regina’s most recent meeting of city council, Ward 2 councillor Bob Hawkins put forward a notice of motion to change the city’s path on fluoride, which received nearly unanimous support.

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Hawkins’ motion stated that council “direct the Administration to adopt a program of community water fluoridation similar to the one currently followed by the City of Moose Jaw and in accordance with the norms established by Health Canada.”

Health Canada recommends water be fluoridated to a level of 0.7 mg/L to prevent tooth decay.

Hawkins added that a fluoride program to combat tooth decay could be introduced when the Buffalo Pound upgrades are completed in 2025. The plant’s modifications will include upgrades to the main treatment plant, pump stations and reservoirs. It was commissioned in 1955 and has undergone three major capacity and process improvements since its original construction.

Many fluoride advocates support adjusting local concentrations in municipal water supplies because for certain socio-economic groups it may be their only source of fluoride. Other groups may receive fluoride from custom toothpastes or applications at the dentist.

A study published in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology found that between 2004-05 and 2013-14, the rate of cavities in baby teeth increased in both Edmonton and Calgary. However, in Calgary, which stopped fluoridating its water in 2011, infant cavities were occurring at twice the rate of Edmonton’s.

Calgary has had a similarly complicated history with fluoride, having also had numerous referendums over the decades. It will host yet another vote during the fall municipal election. In Calgary, the cost of fluoridation has often been raised as a sticking point, with some arguing it should be covered by the provincial government.

Fluoride is considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century.”

The proposed fluoride motion will be debated by Regina council on August 11.

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