Fluoride will remain in Owen Sound’s drinking water.
Just over 55% of voters said the city should not discontinue its practice of water fluoridation.
Dr. Hazel Lynn, the area’s medical officer of health, said she is delighted with the result.
“We will all benefit from this because our teeth will be stronger and have less caries. But the people that will benefit most will be kids who live in poverty, which is 25% of the children under six in Owen Sound, and the seniors. Many of them cannot afford a regular dental plan,” she said.
She said there was a lot of misinformation spread in the community by anti-fluoride advocates.
“But what was really reassuring is that Owen Sound people could look at the science and look at the evidence and make their choices and a good majority have done that,” she said.
With all polls in, 4,439 people voted to continue with water fluoridation, while 3,546 electors voted to take it out.
Since city electors voted in 1997 to continue with the practice, Ontario law said another plebiscite was needed — with the opposite result — before it could end. Back in ‘97, the vote was 4,633 to 3,097 in favour of keeping fluoride in the water.
Owen Sound has been fluoridating its water since 1965.
The vote on the future of water fluoridation in Owen Sound sparked two vastly different campaigns in the months preceding election day.
On one side, the Grey Bruce Health Unit led a pro-fluoride crusade that promoted the practice as a safe and effective way to improve oral health and prevent tooth decay for everyone, especially children.
On the other, the group Fluoridation Free Owen Sound and other anti-fluoride advocates campaigned on a message that water fluoridation is an outdated, ineffective practice that could pose health risks and should not be forced on people.
Both sides said their information was based on scientific research.
Public health got their message out through brochures, posters and social media.
Every dentist and family health team physician in Owen Sound had the public health materials in their offices, medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn said, and public health officials handed out their brochures, “Fluoride: It’s Safe and it Works,” outside all-candidates meeting venues.
“We tried to stick with science that we knew and we tried to target not the side that already made up their minds that this was bad for you but the people that hadn’t really thought about it. So the message was meant for people who needed some information and they asked questions and they’re actually interested in finding out the answers,” Lynn said Monday afternoon before the polls closed.
The health unit’s brochure included quotes from Dr. Tom Rice, chief of dentistry at Grey Bruce Health Services, along with the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Arlene King, Health Canada, the Canadian Dental Association and the country’s Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.
Water fluoridation opponents, meanwhile, began their campaign by disseminating their own literature on the potential dangers of the practice.
They stopped handing out brochures and buttons Oct. 7 after learning that doing so could violate the Municipal Elections Act since no fluoride opponent registered with the city clerk’s office by a Sept. 12 deadline.
The act requires all individuals, corporations or trade unions that wish to spend money on encouraging electors to vote yes or no to a question on a ballot to register.
Dr. David Ward of Fluoridation Free Owen Sound said he is pleased with the group’s campaign, despite the setback.
“I think, on the whole, we got our message out,” he said before the polls closed.
He said anti-fluoride advocates continued to speak with people after Oct. 7, but didn’t hand out information.
Fluoridation Free Owen Sound conducted a “low-key and reasonable” campaign, he said, aimed at educating people about why fluoride should not be added to the city’s water supply.
“People were listening and trying to understand the issues,” he said.
Both opponents and supporters of water fluoridation criticized the wording of the plebiscite question, which asked voters “Are you in favour of the discontinuance of the fluoridation of the public water supply of this municipality?” Both sides said the question, which comes from Ontario’s Fluoridation Act, is confusing.
Ward said he would like to see a change to the wording.
Lynn said she hopes the province will mandate that all municipal water supplies in Ontario must contain Health Canada-recommended levels of fluoride. The province should also provide the funding for province wide community water fluoridation, she said.