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Ward 7 News: How to Improve Dental Health in Alberta

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I care deeply about dental health, especially for children and low income families. Dental health is worsening across Alberta, affecting both mental and body health. I also recognise that the debate on fluoride is highly polarised and that, by focussing solely on whether cities add fluoride to drinking water, we miss the bigger picture on healthy mouths and healthy bodies.

The debate on fluoride was kicked off again by a recent study of tooth decay rates in Calgary and Edmonton. For my thoughts on this study, please see my previous blog. The key issue raised in the study is that tooth decay is increasing in both Calgary and Edmonton. The study also identified that, despite decades of water fluoridation, Edmonton had slightly higher rates of tooth decay than Calgary, both before and after Calgary stopped adding fluoride to its water. With tooth decay rates increasing across Alberta, regardless of fluoridation, it is clear that fluoride is not a silver bullet.

One of the biggest challenges for dental health in Alberta is the high cost of dental services. Rates in Alberta are the highest in Canada due to the lack of a suggested fee guide, thus rendering dental services unaffordable to many Albertans and forcing them to either forgo dental care or seek dental care outside the province. Public drinking water fluoridation cannot replace access to affordable dental care, proper dental hygiene habits, or diets that reduce the consumption of harmful food and beverages.

Alberta’s declining dental health requires a comprehensive effort by our public health body, Alberta Health Services (AHS), to address the increases in tooth decay province-wide. Focussing on fluoride as a solution is not nearly enough. Unfortunately, AHS is not fulfilling its responsibility to promote dental equity for Albertans.

To send the message to AHS that they must address the dental health issue, I put forward motions to Council to request that the Mayor write to AHS. Council unanimously supported my motions to request that AHS:

• Compile a list of dental care resources, particularly for children and low income families. The City will post this information on its website and 2-1-1.

• Investigate solutions to the systemic causes of increased tooth decay across Alberta, including, but not limited to, ensuring equitable access to dental care programmes and services for all Albertans, especially those living with lower incomes.

It is my hope that AHS will fulfill its responsibility to keep Albertans healthy and will provide Albertans with the tools to improve dental health that are at its disposal. This issue is too important to ignore.

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This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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