Dentists seem drawn to Sault due to our unfluoridated water

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, September 19, 2007, p. A10

Dentists drawn to communities without fluoride in the water? When our family began contemplating a move to Sault Ste. Marie, I busied myself with finding a job and a home, and then my attention turned to getting a doctor and a dentist. Armed with recommendations from friends, I hit the Yellow Pages for the dentists’ telephone numbers and was surprised to find 50 dentists for a population of 75,000 (one dentist for every 1,500 people).

When I went in for my first appointment with Dr. Sicoly, the mystery started to unravel. My hygienist started cleaning my teeth and asked me where I was from “because I was obviously not from the Sault.” First off, I hate when hygienists ask me questions with my mouth gaping open because I can’t possibly reply. If I do answer it will sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher or Daffy Duck. Second – why can’t I be from here? I’m not wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.

Once her hands and the saliva vacuum were out of my mouth, I asked the hygienist about her comment. “Your teeth are perfect, you don’t have a single cavity,” she replies.

This is true. I have always taken care of my teeth, but I don’t think that the Sault has a reputation for bad teeth, does it? When I watched a Simpson’s episode lately, Lisa was shown the unflattering “Big Book of British Smiles” by her orthodontist, and the Sault was not mentioned.

My hygienist continued, “The Sault has no fluoride in the water, and you obviously grew up where there was fluoride in the water.”

She’s right. I was born and raised in Ottawa, with fluoridated water. With 506 dentists listed in the yellow pages in Ottawa for 813,000 people, there are more dentists per capita in the Sault than in Ottawa.

Before I left the chair, my hygienist handed me information on fluoride stating that “it is one of the most successful preventative measures in reducing tooth decay.” Supplements are recommended for children until their last permanent teeth come in around age 12.

The Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the World Health Association, and Health Canada all endorse the fluoridation of drinking water to prevent tooth decay.

I thought everyone had fluoride in their water, but actually, only 40 per cent of Canadians do. I received a list from the Ministry of Environment showing where water is fluoridated in Ontario. >From Toronto to Michipicoten, the list includes: 18 cities, five regional municipalities, one district municipality, three municipalities, five counties, 19 towns, and five townships.

When I paired up the list with the 2006 population data from Statistics Canada, it appears that more than 76 per cent of Ontarians have fluoride in their drinking water.

I tested my hypothesis that there will be more dentists where the water is not fluoridated with a few Northern cities. Looking at the people to dentist ratio, North Bay (1,800 people per dentist), Sudbury (1,795 to one), and Ottawa (1,607 people per dentist), all with fluoridated water, have fewer dentists per capita than communities without fluoride like Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay (1,310 people per dentist).

Dentists appear drawn to places without fluoridated water, because the Sault and Thunder Bay are certainly not currently medical meccas to my knowledge.

So why isn’t there fluoride in the water in the Sault? A referendum in 1985 struck down the idea by a margin of nearly two to one. Why? Could citizens have believed the comments from a veteran city councillor who warned that fluoride was linked to AIDS and other deadly diseases?

I’ve read many of the anti-fluoride websites, and am not converted by the lack of an established causal link and inflammatory arguments. The risk of dental fluorosis (discolouration of the teeth) in children due to overexposure to fluoride seems small compared to the benefits in our dental bills and overall dental health with fluoridated water.

Provinces are responsible for the safety of drinking water, but municipalities decide whether or not to fluoridate and the amount of fluoride to be added. I have already contacted Ward 1 Councillor James Caicco, and now issue this request to the city: please have an expert review the issue and, if appropriate, fluoridate our water to 0.8ppm, so that my children will have a better chance for cavity-free teeth. Just think of the community benefits when everyone is smiling more to show off their pearly whites.

Is the city still looking for a referendum question?

Nadine Robinson is a freelance writer and a marketing & communications consultant. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her at the.ink.writer@gmail.com

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