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Remember This? The great fluoride debate

Why don't we have fluoride in our water? Fears of enemy infiltration and religious concerns are just two of the reasons
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From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

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Remember This . . . Fluoride — The 50-year Debate

While many municipalities across Canada add fluoride to their drinking water, Sault Ste. Marie has been debating this topic for over 50 years. 

Fluoride has been added to city water supplies since about 1945 to help with oral health and prevent tooth decay.  While adding fluoride to the water supply has always been supported by the health care profession, Sault Ste. Marie has rejected it in three separate referendums, held in 1968, 1970 and 1985. 

The Sault Star reported on the debate on fluoridation dating back to the late 1950s. At the time, several reasons were given for not adding fluoride to the drinking water. 

The first reason was the belief that they were adding poison to the water supply and the concern that too much fluoride could be dangerous. However health officials countered this argument by explaining that chlorine was already being added to the water which could also be dangerous in excessive amounts. 

Another concern was if an enemy gained access to the water supply they could poison the population. A third reason related to religious beliefs. While none of the major denominations like Roman Catholics and Protestants came out against the motion, some smaller sects objected. 

Supporters of fluoride cited that Stratford and Brantford were two of the earlier cities to have added fluoride to their water supply with no ill effects and both had seen a decrease in tooth decay. 

In 1968, Sault citizens voted on the motion in a municipal election. The motion was defeated 13,963 to 8,486. By this time more communities were adding fluoride to the water supply including North Bay, Sudbury, Blind River and Espanola. Ontario had 155 communities which had fluorinated water supplies. However, the issue would be brought in front of voters again in a December 1970 election. 

One of the movers of the topic was Dr. Tom Angus who stated “the voters have been given time to change their minds and it is the council’s duty to lead.” 

While other Aldermen like Walter Chisholm stated “this question was defeated resoundingly last time and we should let sleeping dogs lie.” 

While again many people were opposed to the idea of a mandatory introduction of fluoride into the water supply, health officials stressed that many children do not have access to dentists and fluoride pills and this would give them some means to prevent tooth decay, decreasing dental bills in general. However, the motion was defeated again in the election.  

While the 1970 motion to add fluoride to the city’s water supply failed, in 1981 a fluoride rinsing plan was approved in public elementary schools on a voluntary basis. The vote to add fluoride to the water supply was brought up again in 1985 but was once again defeated by 63.5 per cent of the population, which was even higher than the previous two referendums. 

In 2007, Councillor James Caicco tried to bring the matter up again in council but the motion was defeated by other councillors.  

It is interesting to note that some communities, including Calgary and Waterloo, have re-examined the need to add fluoride to their drinking water in recent years. However, statistics show communities that have removed fluoride from their drinking water saw an increase in tooth decay.   

In today’s world, with increased access to dental care, bottled water and home filtration systems people are no longer dependent on the community to provide them with fluorinated water. No matter where one stands on this issue it appears that it won’t be revisited in the near future. 

Regardless, remember it is always a smart idea to brush your teeth and floss! 

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Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here