Fluoride in drinking water benefits children’s dental health: U of C study

CALGARY – A new study from the University of Calgary is shedding light on the impact of Calgary’s decision to remove fluoride from drinking water in 2011.

The study compared the dental health of grade two students in Calgary and Edmonton with roughly 2600 kids in each city taking part.

It found that students in Calgary are significantly more likely to have cavities than those in Edmonton, where water is still fluoridated.

“We found that dental cavities, for example the prevalence of dental cavities, that means the proportion of kids with one or more teeth affected by cavities, was significantly higher in the Calgary kids than in the Edmonton kids. So higher in the Calgary kids where we don’t have fluoridation than in Edmonton where fluoridation is in place,” said Dr. Lindsay McLaren, professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and primary investigator of the study.

Over half of Edmonton participants (55.1 per cent) had one or more cavities in their baby teeth and that number was 64.8 per cent in Calgary children.

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McLaren says the study took into account other things that could impact dental health.

“When you’re studying populations which are dynamic and messy and there’s many factors going on, you have to be very thoughtful about the myriad of factors that might be contributing to differences in dental cavities aside from fluoridation status,” said McLaren.

She points out that they had parents fill out a detailed questionnaire that looked at socio-demographic factors, dental hygiene behaviors, diet, residential history, whether they usually drink tap or bottled water, and other sources of exposure to fluoridation.

“We were able to test and ascertain that the differences between the two cities persisted even when taking in all of those factors into account.”

McLaren says in order for the study to be representative of the population they went through the school systems in each city.

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“If you’re interested in understanding what’s going on in populations you can’t go through dentists’ offices for example. With dental care being entirely in the private sector there are a lot of families who don’t go to the dentist or who can’t go to the dentist so it would not be a representative sample.”

She says while many adults don’t think of a cavity as a serious health issue it can be for kids.

“Cavities can be painful and can impair kids’ ability to concentrate and learn. Many people don’t know this but across the country for kids under the age of six, dental cavities are actually the number one reason for day surgery and almost all of those surgeries are performed under a general anesthetic so that’s very serious,” said McLaren, who would like to see fluoride added back to drinking water in Calgary.

“I think we should reinstate fluoridation and or we should come up with some other universal publicly funded approach to prevent dental cavities in the population.”

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McLaren points out that data for the study was collected over a number of months in 2018 and 2019, meaning Calgary kids who took part were born after fluoride was removed from the drinking water.

Edmonton kids, meanwhile, would have been exposed to it for their entire lives because it has been added to the water there since before they were even born.

The study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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