Voters narrowly defeated a non-binding ballot question that asked if they favored putting teeth-protecting fluoride into the municipal water system.
The all-Republican Township Council now has the final say in the matter and will use the defeat, by a vote of 2,858 to 2,607, as a guide to public sentiment.
Three years ago, a panel of officials and residents voted to recommend that the council at least consider fluoridation for the system serving 14,000 residents. But the council was then steadfastly against the idea. The current council is divided, as are many in the private sector.
Those with differing views include the two Republican candidates for council — incumbent Edward Engelbart and newcomer Thomas Farrelly — who were uncontested in winning four-year seats Tuesday.
Engelbart said he supports the measure, but when it goes before the council he would vote however the majority of township residents voted. Farrelly is against mandatory fluoridation, saying it should be a decision made by individuals.
Dentists say fluoride, an element found in rocks and water, prevents cavities by strengthening the enamel of developing teeth.
There have been many scientific studies done that claim fluoride does not harm human health. There also have been studies that suggest that too much fluoride may pose health risks, especially for senior citizens and young children.
No municipally owned water systems in the region have fluoride, although the practice is supported by the federal government, and regional systems serving many communities include the treatment.
About 134 million Americans use water systems with fluoride levels adjusted to government standards. U.S. cities began fluoridating their water supplies in the 1940s, but the practice has been repeatedly attacked by critics who raise a range of issues. In the Cold War era, fluoridation was assailed as a Communist plot. In the 1990s, opponents are more likely to raise issues of personal freedom and potential health risks.