Voters across Nebraska decided Tuesday to opt out of a new law that would require some communities to add fluoride to their drinking water, an outcome that caught David O’Doherty off-guard.
“We’re surprised and disappointed,” said O’Doherty, executive director of the Nebraska Dental Association.
Adding fluoride to a community’s drinking water supply is the most cost-effective way to improve oral health and prevent cavities, O’Doherty said.
The dental association worked with the Nebraska Legislature to introduce a bill requiring communities of more than 1,000 people to add fluoride to their drinking water supply, unless their water had enough naturally occurring fluoride.
The bill passed this year. All communities of more than 1,000 people will have to add the fluoride by 2010, unless they vote to opt out of the program.
Most of the more than five dozen communities that addressed the issue Tuesday voted to keep fluoride out of their water.
In Southeast Nebraska, Beatrice, David City, Eagle, Friend, Geneva, Hebron, Pawnee City, Stromsburg, Weeping Water, Wilber, Wymore and York all voted to forgo adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water supply.
Ashland, Crete, Seward, Wahoo and Yutan voted in favor of fluoridation.
Among other communities whose voters said no were Bayard, Bridgeport, Broken Bow, Chadron, Cozad, Crawford, Gothenburg, Grand Island, Grant, Kimball, Lexington, Mitchell, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Sidney, Sutherland, Wilber, Wymore and York.
O’Doherty said he worried about the way the question was phrased on the ballot. If you voted “yes,” you voted to opt out — to keep fluoride out of your town’s water. If you voted “no,” you voted to let fluoridation of your water proceed.
“I think it was very confusing to a lot of people,” said Michelle Bloomquist, a deputy clerk in Gage County, where voters in both Beatrice and Wymore rejected the addition of fluoride.
Bloomquist said several voters called or stopped in the clerk’s office with questions about the way the question was phrased prior to Tuesday’s election. Late Wednesday morning, she said, she hadn’t heard any complaints about the outcome of the fluoride issue.
O’Doherty said the Nebraska Dental Association would work with lawmakers to give communities another chance to vote for fluoridation.
“We know the ballot language was confusing, but we’re still hopeful,” he said.