The State of Community Water Fluoridation across Canada

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Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Published: 2017-12-15

2017 Report

Prepared by the Public Health Capacity and Knowledge Management Unit,

Quebec Region for the Office of the Chief Dental Officer of Canada,

Public Health Agency of Canada

The State of Community Water Fluoridation across Canada

Introduction

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral present in nearly all water sources. It is naturally released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. Drinking water that contains fluoride has long been associated with reduced tooth decay. In 1909, two U.S. dentists F. McKay and G. V. Black initiated a 15-year follow-up study in one Colorado town and observed very low caries rates among residents who had access to drinking water with a naturally high level of fluoride. Since then, numerous scientific findings have corroborated the preventive effect of fluoride on tooth decay. By exposing the teeth to a constant low level of fluoride, it helps reduce the cavity-causing effect of foods and bacteria. Fluoride molecules create stronger teeth by hardening tooth enamel, contributing to tooth surface re-mineralization and deterring oral bacteriaFootnote 1.

At the population level, water fluoridation is associated with approximately a 25% to 30% reduction in tooth decay in children and adultsFootnote 2. The recommended concentration for caries prevention (called the optimal level) is 0.7 milligrams/liter (mg/L)Footnote 3 Footnote 4 Footnote 5 or 0.7 parts per million (ppm). Community water fluoridation (CWF) is the process of monitoring and adjusting the fluoride level in drinking water to the optimal level for caries prevention. Water fluoridation has been instrumental in the overall global reduction in dental caries and many communities around the world have access to CWF. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control considers CWF as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th centuryFootnote 6.

CWF is the most cost effective and equitable method to deliver fluoride to the population. This population-based preventive intervention contributes to oral health equity by overcoming common social determinants of health including age, education, income, and access to professional dental care. CWF yields a high return on investment that increases according to community population size, with a per capita annual benefit ranging from $5.49 to $93.19Footnote 7 per dollar invested.

CWF is endorsed by major public health bodies around the world, including the World Health Organization, the Canadian Dental Association, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The PHAC Position Statement on CWF, co-signed by the Chief Dental Officer of Canada and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, can be consulted at: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/publications/healthy-living/fluoride-position-statement.html.

In 2012, around 12 million Canadians (37.4%)Footnote 8 had access to CWF (through water systems), leaving the majority of Canadians not benefitting from the caries protective effect of fluoridated drinking water. In 2017, there are around 13.9 million Canadians (38.7%) who benefit from CWF.

In spite of its robust policy and scientific endorsement, a number of municipalities have discontinued CWF since 2012 (see Table 4), which has an impact on the percentage of the population which currently has access to fluoridated water (even though the total for the country has increased, Table 5 shows a decline in the majority of the Provinces and Territories). The rationale for the decision to discontinue CWF varies by jurisdiction and may be influenced by different factors, including community concern over putative health effectsFootnote 9 and technical/financial aspects thought to be related to the delivery of fluoride.

To document the situation from a national perspective, the PHAC Office of the Chief Dental Officer (OCDO), working closely with the Federal Provincial Territorial Dental Directors Working Group (FPTDDWG), has taken a leadership role to update the data on the state of CWF across Canada every five years. The OCDO had already carried out this exercise three times: in 2005, 2007 and 2012. In addition to estimating the population's access to optimal levels of fluoride through a community water supply, the 2012 round also included data on population access to well water supplies that contained naturally occurring fluoride. The additional element in this 2017 report is the provision of estimates of access to fluoridated drinking water in Indigenous communities.

Methodological remarks

The members of the FPTDDWG provided data on drinking water fluoridation status for their respective Province/Territory. They gathered this information from their respective Provincial/Territorial environment or health ministries.

Provincial/Territorial estimates for total CWF coverage were calculated using the ratio of the population receiving CWF to the total population. In most cases, the data provided was from 2016. Therefore, Provincial/Territorial total populations were derived from the Statistics Canada 2016 census dataFootnote 10. The CWF coverage data was provided, as mentioned, by Provincial/Territorial environment or health ministries through their FPTDDWG member. One of the limitations of this report is that discrepancies in the timing of the data collection exist between Provinces/Territories (from 2014 to 2017).

Given the difference in reporting systems across jurisdictions, variations in the quality of the data and the level of completeness of the information were also observed. Some Provinces/Territories were able to provide very detailed information on all communities, whether they were fluoridated or not. Others were able to provide information only on fluoridated communities. Data collection related to well water supplies with naturally occurring fluoride was also challenging: data were incomplete for some Provinces/Territories because they did not historically collect this type of information.

Estimating the Provincial/Territorial population receiving well water with naturally occurring fluoride added another layer of complexity. Many wells are located on private property and thus do not receive government jurisdictional monitoringFootnote 11. This situation was particularly true for remote and rural communities.

The level of fluoride in the well water is often unknown, making it challenging to determine if residents were benefiting from exposure at the optimal level of fluoride through this source. Moreover, some communities were served by multiple well water sources at different periods during the year which may have resulted in some communities receiving intermittent fluoridated water.

The current status of community water fluoridation in Indigenous communities across Canada was obtained from Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Environmental Public Health Division (2011 data). On-Reserve population data were obtained from Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey dataFootnote 12.

Results

This report includes six tables:

  • Table 1 presents estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage, 2017.
  • Table 2 presents estimates for coverage of wells (containing naturally occurring fluoride), 2017.
  • Table 3 presents estimates for total CWF coverage, 2017.
  • Table 4 describes changes in CWF status between 2017 and 2012, where appropriate.
  • Table 5 presents estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage for 2007, 2012 and 2017.
  • Table 6 presents estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage in Indigenous communities, 2011.

NOTE: A mapping of estimates for Fluoridated Water Systems Coverage in Canada, 2017 has also been developed as a stand-alone document posted on Canada.ca. It reflects the data presented in Table 1. The map does not include the estimates for coverage of wells because the levels of fluoride that they contain are often unknown. The focus is on water systems from which people benefit from the optimal level of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.

Table 1: Provincial and Territorial estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage, 2017
Province/Territory Total PopulationTable 1 Footnote 1 Population with fluoridated systems Population without fluoridated systems Percent with fluoridated systems Percent without fluoridated systems
British Columbia 4 648 055 54 379 4 593 676 1.17% 98.83%
Alberta 4 067 175 1 725 540 2 341 635 42.43% 57.57%
Saskatchewan 1 146 173 453 849 692 324 39.6% 60.4%
Manitoba 1 278 365 882 160 396 205 69.01% 30.99%
Ontario 14 135 610 10 050 418 4 085 191 71.1% 28.9%
Quebec 8 164 361 203 700 7 960 661 2.49% 97.51%
New Brunswick 747 101 8 800 738 301 1.18% 98.82%
Nova Scotia 923 598 433 281 490 317 46.91% 53.09%
Prince Edward Island 142 907 34 582 108 325 24.20% 75.80%
Newfoundland/Labrador 519 716 7 572 512 144 1.46% 98.54%
Nunavut 35 944 10 362 25 582 28.83% 71.17%
Northwest Territories 41 786 27 123 14 663 64.91% 35.09%
Yukon 35 874 0 35 874 0.00% 100.00%
Canada 35 886 665 13 891 766 21 994 898 38.7% 61.3 %

Table 1 Footnotes

Table 1 Footnote 1

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data - with two exceptions :Saskatchewan, as the data provided is from a 2014-2015 report, therefore the population numbers were taken from https://www.ehealthsask.ca/health-data/covered-population/Documents/2014-covered-population.pdf; and Ontario as the data provided by that Province was from 2017, so the 2017 population numbers were used for calculations (Statistics Canada Quarterly Demographic Estimates).

Return to Table 1 footnote 1 referrer

Table 2: Provincial and Territorial estimates for coverage of wells (containing naturally occurring fluoride), 2017
Province/Territory Total

PopulationTable 2 Footnote 1

Population with naturally occurring fluoride in well water Population without naturally occurring fluoride in well water Percent with naturally occurring fluoride in well water Percent without naturally occurring fluoride in well water
British Columbia 4 648 055 4 240 4 643 815 0.09% 99.91%
Alberta 4 067 175 39 023 4 028 152 0.96% 99.04%
Saskatchewan 1 146 173 9 076 1 137 097 0.8% 99.2%
Manitoba 1 278 365 49 400 1 228 965 3.86% 96.14%
Ontario 14 135 610 70 678 14 064 932 0.5% 99.5%
Quebec2 8 164 361 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
New Brunswick 747 101 63 067 684 034 8.44 % 91.56 %
Nova Scotia 923 598 8 280 915 318 0.90% 99.10%
Prince Edward Island 142 907 0 142 907 0 100.00%
Newfoundland/Labrador 519 716 700 519 016 0.13% 99.87%
Nunavut2 35 944 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Northwest Territories 41 786 1 409 40 377 3.37% 96.63%
Yukon 35 874 35 874 0 100.00% 0.00%

Table 2 Footnotes

Table 2 Footnote 1

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data - -with two exceptions :Saskatchewan, as the data provided is from a 2014-2015 report, therefore the population numbers were taken from https://www.ehealthsask.ca/health-data/covered-population/Documents/2014-covered-population.pdf; and Ontario as the data provided by that Province was from 2017, so the 2017 population numbers were used for calculations (Statistics Canada Quarterly Demographic Estimates).

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Table 2 Footnote 2

Most Provincial and Territorial authorities were unable to estimate and/or provide detailed data on the levels of naturally occurring fluoride in well water.

Return to Table 2 footnote 2 referrer

Table 3: Provincial and Territorial estimates for total community water fluoridation coverage, 2017
Province/Territory Total PopulationTable 3 Footnote 1 Population with fluoridated water Population without fluoridated water Percent with fluoridated water Percent without fluoridated water
British Columbia 4 648 055 58 619 4 589 436 1.26% 98.74%
Alberta 4 067 175 1 764 563 2 302 612 43.39% 56.61%
Saskatchewan 1 146 173 462 925 638 248 40.4% 59.6%
Manitoba 1 278 365 882 160 396 205 72.87% 27.13%
Ontario 14 135 610 10 121 097 4 014 513 71.6 % 28.4%
Quebec 8 164 361 203 700 7 960 661 2.49% 97.51%
New Brunswick 747 101 71 867 675 234 9.62 % 90.38 %
Nova Scotia 923 598 441 561 482 037 47.81% 52.19%
Prince Edward Island 142 907 34 582 108 325 24.20% 75.80%
Newfoundland/Labrador 519 716 8 272 511 444 1.59% 98.41%
Nunavut 35 944 10 362 25 582 28.83% 0.00%
Northwest Territories 41 786 28 532 13 254 68.28% 31.72%
Yukon 35 874 35 874 0 100.00% 0.00%
Canada 35 886 665 14 124 114 21 762 551 39.4% 60.6%

Table 3 Footnotes

Table 3 Footnote 1

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data - with two exceptions :Saskatchewan, as the data provided is from a 2014-2015 report, therefore the population numbers were taken from https://www.ehealthsask.ca/health-data/covered-population/Documents/2014-covered-population.pdf; and Ontario as the data provided by that Province was from 2017, so the 2017 population numbers were used for calculations (Statistics Canada Quarterly Demographic Estimates).

Return to Table 3 footnote 1 referrer

Table 4: Comparing 2017 and 2012 estimates
Province/Territory Explanation for changesFootnote 13 since 2012 CWF Report
British Columbia Sparwood and Prince George discontinued fluoridation in 2014
Alberta Okotoks discontinued fluoridation in 2012
Saskatchewan Meadow Lake, Langenburg (2011), Rosetown (2012), Melville, Moosomin, Tisdale (2013), Gull Lake, Indian Head, Eston (2014), and Wadena Outlook (2015) discontinued fluoridation
Manitoba Flin Flon (2011-2012), Churchill, Melita, Pilot Mound (2012-2013), Reston (2014-2015), The Pas, Virden (2015-2016) discontinued fluoridation
Ontario Kirkland Lake & Amherstburg (2012); Windsor, LaSalle, Tecumseh & New Tecumseth - Tottenham (2013); Lake of Bays & Huntsville (2014); Kingsville (2015); Nairn and Hyman, McDougall, Parry Sound & Cornwall (2016) discontinued fluoridation. Port Severn (Lone Pine) Drinking Water System, District Municipality of Muskoka: started CWF (2015)
Quebec Trois-Rivières and Richmond discontinued fluoridation in 2012
New Brunswick Moncton/Dieppe/Riverview (2012) and Saint John (2014) discontinued fluoridation
Nova Scotia In October 2016 the Municipality of East Hants turned off their fluoride at the Enfield Water Treatment Plant due to a pump malfunction. On October 2nd, 2017 the inspector received notification that the pump issue was resolved and fluoridation was restored.
Prince Edward Island No change
Newfoundland/Labrador Gander discontinued fluoridation in 2010
Nunavut Rankin Inlet temporarily discontinued fluoridation due to purported workers' safety issues in 2016.
Northwest Territories Wells with naturally occurring fluoride reported in Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte, Whati and Wrigley
Yukon Total population reported as having access to naturally fluoridated wells
Table 5: Provincial and Territorial estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage, 2007, 2012, 2017
Province/Territory 2007 2012 2017
British Columbia 3.9% 2.7% 1.2%
Alberta 74.6% 43.3% 42.4%
Saskatchewan 31.7% 36.7% 39.6%Footnote 14
Manitoba 73.2% 75.3% 69.0%
OntarioFootnote 15 70.3% 67.3% 71.1%
Quebec 6.9% 3.4% 2.5%
New Brunswick 19.1% 10.7% 1.2%
Nova Scotia 44.8% 49.6% 46.9%
Prince Edward Island 23.4% 24.7% 24.2%
Newfoundland/Labrador 3.5% 1.5% 1.5%
Nunavut 7.1% 35.7% 28.8%
Northwest Territories 53.8% 61.1% 64.9%
Yukon 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Canada 42.6% 37.4% 38.7%
Table 6: Indigenous communities estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage, 2011
Province/Territory Communities with CWF:

Population

On Reserve

populationFootnote 16

Percent with

fluoridated systemsFootnote 17

British Columbia (none) 78 660 0.0%
Alberta Enoch; 985 48 590 6.4%
Paul First Nation; 1095
Alexander; 1030
Saskatchewan Muskoday First Nation; 695 56 625 2.4%
One Arrow First Nation; 675
Manitoba Dakota Tipi; 160 62 965 1.4%
Roseau River; 695
Ontario Aamjiwnaang; 640 51 565 1.2%
Quebec (none) 40 770 0.0%
New Brunswick Oromocto; 285 7 970 3.6%
Nova Scotia Millbrook; 995 9 535 20.0%
Membertou; 910
Prince Edward Island (none) 500 0.0%
Newfoundland/Labrador (none) 3 160 0.0%
Canada 8165 360 340 2.3%

The only Indigenous communities that have access to CWF are those that have a Municipal Transfer Agreement which allows them to obtain drinking water from a municipal source. However, CWF is not uniformly available and the provided estimate may overestimate the reality for some Indigenous communities. For example, sporadic interruptions in the provision of CWF have been reported in Muskoday First Nation community (Saskatchewan). In the Enoch community (Alberta), while some areas within the community have access to fluoridated water, the entire system will not be fully connected for another couple of years. Likewise, only the satellite community of Coal Harbour in Millbrook (Nova Scotia) currently has access to CWF.

See following page for Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Table 6: Indigenous communities estimates for fluoridated water systems coverage, 2011 (con't)
Territory Communities with CWF: Population Indigenous population (2011) Percent with fluoridated systemsFootnote 18
NunavutTable 7 Footnote 1 Iqaluit;6699

Rankin Inlet; 2266

Arviat; 1810

27 360 28.8%
Northwest TerritoriesTable 7 Footnote 1 Yellowknife; 19 234

Inuvik; 3463

Fort Smith; 2093 (use with caution),

21 160 64.9%
YukonTable 7 Footnote 1 (none) 7 705 0.0%

Table 7 Footnotes

Table 7 Footnote 1

In Nunavut and Northwest Territories, the majority of the population (86% for Nunavut; 52% for NT) is from an Indigenous background. It is around 23% for Yukon.

Return to Table 7 footnote 1 referrer

As Nunavut, NT and Yukon don't have Reserves per se, they are not included in the total "on Reserve population" in the main table (previous page), and we consequently provide for these three Territories' estimates for fluoridated water system coverage as previously presented in table 1 for the total population.

Footnotes

Footnote 1

MMWR Recomm Rep. 2001 Aug 17;50(RR-14):1-42.

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Footnote 2

CDC (2015) Community Water Fluoridation. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/; Tchouaket, E. & al (2013). The economic value of Quebec's water fluoridation program. Journal of Public Health. June 2013; 21 (6): 523-533; Rugg-Gunn. AJ & Do,L. (2012). Effectiveness of water fluoridation in caries prevention. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2012 Oct; 40 suppl. 2:55-64.; Griffin SO, Regnier E, Griffin PM, Huntley V. (2007). Effectiveness of fluoride in preventing caries in adults. J Dent Res. 2007;86(5):410-415

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Footnote 3

Public Health Rep. 2015 Jul-Aug;130(4):318-31.

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Footnote 4

Health Canada (2011) Guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality: Guideline technical document - Fluoride. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/2011-fluoride-fluorure/index-eng.php

Return to footnote 4 referrer

Footnote 5

Health Canada (2007) Findings and recommendations of the fluoride expert panel (January 2007). http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/2008-fluoride-fluorure/index-eng.php

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Footnote 6

Public Health Rep. 2015 Jul-Aug;130(4):296-98.

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Footnote 7

Ran, T. & Chattopadhyay, S.K & CPSTF (2015). Economic Evaluation of Community Water Fluoridation. A Community Guide Systematic Review. Am J Prev Med 2015. In press; Tchouaket, E. & al (2013). The economic value of Quebec's water fluoridation program. Journal of Public Health. June 2013; 21 (6): 523-533; CDC (2013). Costs Saving of Community Water Fluoridation. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/factsheets/cost.htm; Griffin, S O, Jones, K and Tomar, S L. (2001). An economic evaluation of community water fluoridation. J Public Health Dent 2001; 61(2): 78-86.

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Footnote 8

PHAC, the State of Community Water Fluoridation across Canada, 2012 report

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Footnote 9

Decades of research and studies performed by recognized institutions have found that, in Canada, documented risks are limited to dental fluorosis. This condition is caused by exposure to too much fluoride during tooth development (i.e. under 6 years of age). The most common form of dental fluorosis is very mild and can change the appearance of tooth enamel, commonly resulting in small white spots on teeth. This is largely unnoticeable and not considered detrimental to the overall appearance or function of the teeth.

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Footnote 10

With two exceptions :Saskatchewan, as the data provided is from a 2014-2015 report, therefore the population numbers were taken from https://www.ehealthsask.ca/health-data/covered-population/Documents/2014-covered-population.pdf; and Ontario as the CWF data provided by that Province was from 2017, so the 2017 population numbers were used for calculations (Statistics Canada Quarterly Demographic Estimates).

Return to footnote 10 referrer

Footnote 11

It is worth nothing that, for example, about 40% of the population of New-Brunswick use private wells, which are out of the scope of this report, but because the report normalizes to the total population of NB, it introduces a bias in the numbers.

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Footnote 12

It should be noted that the situation is different in Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories where there are no Indigenous Reserves per se.

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Footnote 13

The dates entered in that column besides the name of different municipalities are there to indicate the year when CWF was discontinued, started or reintroduced in these locations.

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Footnote 14

Data from 2014-15 from https://www.ehealthsask.ca/health-data/covered-population/Documents/2014-covered-population.pdf

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Footnote 15

Despite the fact that most of the municipalities listed in Table 4 discontinued CWF, we see an increase in the % of people with access to CWF in Saskatchewan, in Ontario and in the Northwest Territories between 2012 and 2017 - this could be due to population growth in specific areas with fluoridated water, to the number of people who have moved in jurisdictions that have municipal systems that fluoridate the drinking water, and/or to different data collection or calculation methods used since 2012.

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Footnote 16

Source: Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey and Census Profile

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Footnote 17

Percent with fluoridated systems in this table were not verified as the data is not easily accessible

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Footnote 18

Percent with fluoridated systems in this table were not verified as the data is not easily accessible

Return to footnote 18 referrer

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