Applied Public Health Chair – Lindsay McLaren
Lindsay McLaren, BA(hons), MA, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Department of Community Health Sciences and the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary. Dr. McLaren previously held an Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions Population Health Investigator Award (2007-2014) and is currently President of the Alberta Public Health Association (2014-2016) and Senior Editor at the Canadian Journal of Public Health (2014 – present). She has focused her career on quantitative research, specifically in the area of structural forces that influence health equity. Dr. McLaren brings this multi-disciplinary expertise into her CIHR/PHAC Applied Public Health Chair aimed at studying cessation of community water fluoridation in Canada.
The decision-making collaborators on Dr. McLaren’s Chair in Applied Public Health are Dr. Rafael Figueiredo DDS, MSc, Dental Public Health Officer with Alberta Health Services, and Dr. Richard Musto, MD, FRCPC, Medical Officer of Health, Calgary Zone.
Dr. McLaren's Chair
Over half of Canadian children between the ages of 6 and 11 are affected by dental caries. During 2010-12, dental caries was identified as the primary reason for day surgery for children under 6 years in Canada. Social inequities in oral health problems are significant and by some accounts increasing. One way to tackle this public health problem is community water fluoridation. However, research on cessation of fluoridation is limited. An increasing number of municipalities across Canada are choosing to stop fluoridation. The motives behind fluoridation cessation are complex, and understanding them is important. Fortunately, there is an opportunity to advance the research base in this topic area, specifically by capitalizing on Calgary's fluoridation cessation in 2011.
In addition to its implications for oral health, research on community water fluoridation provides a window into broader questions in population and public health. For example, fluoridation involves the complexities associated with intervening on populations in a way that infringes on individual liberties. Fluoridation is also illustrative of a conundrum in public health whereby those interventions with significant potential to improve population health and reduce health inequities are questioned and challenged by some members of the public. Finally, fluoridation sits at the nexus of empirical research on effectiveness, values held by members of the public, and ideological considerations related to the appropriate role of the state (government), all of which are historically contingent.
Dr. McLaren, as an Applied Public Health Chair, aims to generate knowledge that will address knowledge gaps related to dental public health as well as to generate knowledge that will represent scholarly innovation in population health and health equity.
To address this goal, Dr. McLaren has collaborative research projects focused on several aspects of community water fluoridation and dental health; for example:
- Exploring the short-term impact of community water fluoridation cessation on children's dental caries;
- Studying the decision-making process surrounding cessation of community water fluoridation in Calgary;
- Engaging in critical analysis of the shift from community water fluoridation (a universal or population-level preventive strategy) to interventions targeted at vulnerable populations (a high-risk or targeted preventive strategy);
- Exploring practice adaptations by dental hygienists in response to cessation of community water fluoridation;
- Examining the association between fluoride exposure and health outcomes related to cognitive and thyroid functioning in a national population-based sample of Canadians;
- Exploring parents' online discussions about children's dental health;
- Identifying challenges and opportunities for public health communication about community water fluoridation and other population-level interventions.
The findings from this research have the potential to significantly enhance the knowledge base on fluoridation and oral health, as well as yield important insights for public health decision-makers.
Want to learn more?
To learn more about Dr. McLaren’s research and project, please visit:
- The Impact of Removing Fluoridation from Municipal Water Supplies in Canada: a Tale of Two Cities. J Can Dent Assoc 2014;80:e30
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