Fluoride may soon be coming to the drinking water supplied by the Municipality of Cumberland County.
Chris Henneberry, the secretary of the Pugwash and Area Community Health Board, has taken an interest in the fluoridation of water and is leading advocacy on the issue with political representatives in the area.
“It’s such an important issue and it needs to have more visibility,” Henneberry said.
It was about two years ago when Henneberry first learned about a voluntary fluoride rinse program being offered in two of three local elementary schools. When he inquired with the provincial health authority as to why it wasn’t being offered in all three schools, he didn’t get an answer. Offers to voluntarily administer the program – which sees students receive a fluoride rinse once a week – weren’t accepted.
Fluoride is an element that helps prevent tooth decay. It occurs naturally in water, as well as soil and some foods.
There are some areas that increase the fluoride in their water supply for the health benefits to its residents. According to the province’s Department of Health and Wellness, the optimal concentration of fluoride in water is 0.7 mg/L, and the maximum acceptable concentration is 1.5 mg/L.
“I started looking at other municipalities, but have had some difficulty gaining information on some other municipalities,” he said. Through his research, Henneberry found Halifax has had fluoridation in their water for about six decades. East Hants and Sydney, in Cape Breton, also include fluoride in their water supply.
“I don’t believe there are any in the Annapolis Valley,” he said.
Henneberry pulled together an information packet and sent it off to the municipality, and he said he received a positive response and it was suggested he present to council. He made that presentation, and was pleased with the outcome.
“The most important time for that fluoride is when the teeth are still in the gums, or before the child starts elementary school,” said Henneberry. “The teeth are just starting to develop and hardening enamel. The most crucial time is between the ages of one and six.”
Henneberry also said fluoride is important for the aging population to help maintain the enamel and level of strength in their teeth.
While some toothpaste comes with fluoride, others can be purchased fluoride-free.
“A lot of people live below the suggested incomes. A lot of people can’t afford to buy the right toothpaste, dental floss or rinses,” he said.
Henneberry said there have been some cities in Canada who stopped fluoridation of their drinking water supply, and reported an increase in the number of cavities amongst their populations.
“The biggest thing is that it’s available to all people. This is a benefit for all of us. A more healthy society is a more productive society.”
While fluoridation of water can be a good thing, there are downsides to too much fluoridation, which is why the province works with municipalities on proper levels.
Too much fluoride can cause fluorosis, which can leave spotting on the enamel or discoloration.
During Henneberry’s presentation to Cumberland County council, he was hoping to challenge the municipality to add fluoride to the drinking water in Pugwash. He was pleasantly surprised, however, when councilors discussed looking at levels of all the water supplies in the county, not just Pugwash.
“It’s a prevention opportunity,” said Henneberry. It’s a cost-effective opportunity the county has missed so far. I was focusing on Pugwash, but they’ve expanded that to all systems. There are a lot of people out there and this is a means to make people healthy. I just have a desire to do this.”
Following Henneberry’s presentation, Coun. Lynne Welton made a motion, which was seconded by Coun. Paul Porter, to direct staff to conduct a cost analysis on the installation of fluoridation to the central water systems serving the residents of the municipality.
Henneberry is scheduled to present the topic of fluoridation to representatives of other areas in the county next month, as well as additional community health boards.