The Town of Okotoks is close to removing fluoride from drinking water, but the issue is on hold until later this month as concerns linger whether a proposed oral health program will go ahead.
Town council passed two readings of a bylaw to remove fluoride from Okotoks’ drinking water on May 14, but there wasn’t enough support to move forward to the third and final reading. Support from five councillors was needed in order to hold three readings in one meeting, but Mayor Bill Robertson and councillors Stephen Clark and Ed Sands opposed proceeding to third reading.
The bylaw will come back to town council for third reading at its next meeting on May 28.
Coun. Florence Christophers first proposed removing fluoride earlier this year and she said she doesn’t want council to delay on removing fluoride any further.
“I do believe this council has said we will remove fluoride from our water, I see no reason to delay that,” she said.
If the bylaw is approved, administration will apply to the Province to stop fluoridation and it will take approximately 90 days before the fluoride will be removed.
Opinion in the community is also divided on the issue, but there is support for removing fluoride from drinking water in town. A survey on the Town’s website showed 66 per cent of respondents opposed fluoridation.
Opponents of fluoridation say the chemical contributes to a range of health problems including florosis of the teeth and creating brittle bones. Supporters of fluoridation say it’s a low-cost public health program to prevent tooth decay, especially among low-income families who may not be able to afford dental care.
Councillors voted 6-1 on April 23 to stop adding fluoride to drinking water, but they still need to approve a bylaw at a future meeting before the practice is halted.
Council also approved a motion to consult with Alberta Health Services to ensure a program is in place to provide fluoride toothpaste or topical treatments for people at risk of dental decay. Okotoks’ municipal manager Rick Quail told council the Town has contacted Alberta Health Services, but no details on progress were available by the May 14 meeting.
Christophers said the Town can stop fluoridation while continuing to set up a program to provide fluoride treatments, such as toothpaste or mouthwash, to people who need them.
“I think the first step is to have a conversation with Alberta Health Services to say, ‘What are you doing to reach at risk families and individuals?’,” she said, adding the Town can look to fill in any gaps in the community.
Sands supported the first two readings of the bylaw, but wouldn’t support proceeding to the final reading last week.
He said his concern is fluoride could be removed without an oral health program in place. He supported postponing third reading until the Town hears back from Alberta Health Services.
“I want to have the information from Alberta Health Services as to what kind of a program they can put together for our at-risk individuals before we go to third reading,” said Sands.
Robertson said he also wants to ensure an oral health program providing fluoride to at-risk residents in Okotoks is in place before fluoridation is eliminated.
He said he is concerned about low-income residents who may not be able to afford dental care and others who are most at risk of tooth decay.
“If it comes out I want to make sure that we did as we said we would,” said Robertson.
Opponents of fluoridation don’t want the Town to wait any longer.
Okotoks resident Christine Cameron wants fluoride removed from Okotoks’ drinking water sooner rather than later.
“I’m in favour of getting rid of fluoride as soon as possible because of its deleterious effects on the human body,” she said.
Cameron said she was raised without fluoride in drinking water and she didn’t have any more cavities as a result.
Instead of a program providing fluoride, she would rather see an education program to teach parents about the causes of tooth decay and proper diet.