About 10 years ago, a group of citizens petitioned Whitehorse to discontinue adding fluoride to the city water supply.
Since then, local dentists have seen a marked increase in tooth decay — especially in young children.
“All we have is empirical evidence — what you see,” said Dick Smith, the former president of the Yukon Dental Association.
“It doesn’t necessarily hold across the board, but I do a lot of the preschool exams and I have certainly seen an increase in problems locally.”
However, the dentists don’t have any concrete statistical evidence to back up the empirical evidence.
The territory’s dental records are on paper and it would take a huge amount of work to compile the necessary information.
There’s also a problem with confidentiality.
There’s tons of evidence that fluoride works to prevent tooth decay, said Smith.
“If I wanted to take the time, I could probably cover a desk about three feet deep in evidence.”
“It’s an absolute myth that fluoride helps people’s teeth,” said Michael Brine, who helped spearhead the effort to remove the element from the city’s water supply 10 years ago.
If there is an increase in cavities, it has nothing to do with the absence of fluoridation, he said.
“I would challenge the dental association here to check their facts.”
Vancouver and many small towns throughout Canada do not have fluoridated water, he points out.
Brine has very little respect for Western medicine and North American culture, which he says has moved away from natural living.
He was one of the founders of the Yukon Holistic Health Network and is also strongly opposed to vaccination.
Brine does not use the city’s water supply for his drinking water, preferring to collect it from natural sources.
He is also against chlorinated and distilled water, which kills the natural nutritional elements found in fresh water, he said.
People should have a choice, rather than being forced to consume fluoride in their drinking water, said Brine.
Those that want fluoride can use fluoridated toothpaste or get fluoride treatments from the dentist.
Brine, of course, does neither of these things.
“Anyone handling fluoride has to wear gloves so that it doesn’t get on their skin,” he said.
“Fluoridation is a poison.”
“Fluoride is an element,” said Smith.
“If you took chemistry you’d know it’s on the periodic table. That’s about as natural as you can get.”
Sure, fluoride is poisonous if it is taken in a large enough dose, said Smith.
“But chlorine is 10 times as poisonous and we still put that in our water.”
Fluoride’s effect in drinking water was first discovered in the early 1900s in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A dentist in the area noticed that many of his patients had strange brown stains on their teeth.
However, while the residents of the area didn’t exactly have the most beautiful smiles in the world, they did have some of the healthiest.
All of the people with “Colorado Brown Stain” had almost no tooth decay.
It was determined that the discolouration of teeth was caused by a large amount of fluoride in the local water supply.
The staining phenomenon occurs when someone ingests too much fluoride — now known as fluorosis.
The US Public Health Service then began to look into whether a decreased level of fluoride, which would not cause the staining, could be added to drinking water to prevent cavities.
Brantford, Ontario, was the first Canadian city to fluoridate its water supplies in 1945.
After Brantford’s success with the program, other cities followed suit.
According to Health Canada, approximately 40 per cent of Canadians now consume fluoridated water.
Even though the fluoridation program has ended in Whitehorse, there is still 0.15 milligrams per litre in the drinking water, said Wayne Tuck, manager of engineering and environmental services.
This fluoride occurs naturally in the aquifer from which the city pumps its water.
When the city was adding fluoride the levels were at 0.5 milligrams per litre.
“Our position is very simple on that issue,” said Benoit Soucy of the Canadian Dental Association.
“If you look at the evidence in relation to water fluoridation there is no doubt that it is safe and that it works to prevent cavities.”
The problem with water fluoridation is that that evidence is very hard to gather and analyze on a city-by-city basis.
One city without fluoridation may not look much worse off compared to one with it added to the water.
This is because products, such as juice, produced in the city that uses fluoridation will make their way to the other city.
Alternative sources of fluoride, like toothpaste and fluoride treatments at the dentist, can also mask the effects of water fluoridation.
“But when you remove fluoride, and when you look at the right data, you see that there is an increase in cavities,” said Soucy.
“There’s no doubt about that.”
Fluoride is there as a preventative measure for people who, for all kinds of reasons, don’t use fluoridated toothpaste.
“It’s more of a societal problem than anything else,” he said.
“People who have the financial means and the drive to maintain their teeth usually get adequate fluoride exposure through toothpaste.
“It’s there much more for the protection of the less privileged members of society.”
“The vast majority of decay is seen in those people that have care barriers, who physically or economically cannot visit the dentist,” said Gerry Uswak, the acting dean at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Dentistry.
Uswak specializes in dentistry in northern communities.
“Many people with a lower socio-economic status tend not to brush and visit the dentist only when their teeth hurt,” he said.
“Water fluoridation then serves as one vehicle to get fluoride to this section of society.
“The bottom line is if everyone brushed their teeth and visited their dentist regularly we wouldn’t need water fluoridation,” he added.
The trouble is that this is not the case in many parts of society.
“Regardless of what anti-fluoridationists might say, as far as science is concerned, water fluoridation is the cheapest form of delivering fluoride for prevention,” said Uswak.
“And fluoride in the water system has historically been reported to reduce dental cavities 40 to 50 per cent over non-fluoridated areas.”