Orillia’s politicians have said no to fluoridating the municipal water supply.

“I just believe there has to be alternatives,” Mayor Angelo Orsi said at Monday’s council committee meeting. “This is a very touchy decision when you’re basically dealing with freedom of choice.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) and city staff recommended Orillia fluoridate the water supply. Statistics show Orillia children have the highest rate of dental decay of the 10 municipalities reviewed in the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

Councillors Linda Murray and Tony Madden were the only ones to vote in favour of fluoridation.

“The mayor said he would like to see alternative methods,” Murray said. “You’re fortunate enough to be able to take your children to the dentist. I can’t tell you how many do not have that ability.”

Council committee received a report from city staff regarding fluoridating the water supply as information, but voted 7-2 against fluoridating the water.

The decision was ratified by council later in the evening.

Coun. Andrew Hill suggested the city recommend Orillians drink more water.

“It really takes away the freedom of choice,” he said. “The majority of people I’ve talked to in my ward do not want it.”

There is naturally occurring fluoride in Orillia’s water supply of roughly .2 milligrams per litre. The optimal concentration is between .5 and .8 milligrams per litre, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

“We don’t have at our disposal recommendations on the effectiveness of merely advising people to drink larger quantities of water to try and get that degree of exposure,” said Charles Gardner, medical officer of health and CEO of the SMDHU. “…Therefore, we wouldn’t be in a position to advise that that would be a good alternative.”

Hill said he’s read hundreds of pages on the pros and cons of fluoridation.

“There’s so many different educated people on both sides of the argument,” he said. “To myself and to my constituents, I would err on the side of caution and I will be voting against it.”

Orsi would like to see the SMDHU bring more awareness and education to schools. He suggested alternatives would be drinking water and properly brushing teeth.

“I understand and believe fluoride works on your teeth and works very well,” he said.

Oral hygiene, food nutrition and regular preventative dental care all contribute to the prevention of cavities, Gardner said.

“In addition to all of those things, fluoridation of community water supply further protects teeth,” he said. “We would advise all of those things be in place.”

Gardner added schools are directed to inform youth on oral hygiene.

Adding fluoride to the water supply would have a “major” positive impact on the city, Madden said.

“It’s not necessarily the people around this (council) table and the people in the audience who naturally take good care of their teeth,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in our city who just don’t, and don’t have the same socioeconomic opportunities as others.”

Madden suggested if Orillians have better teeth, they’ll have more confidence.

“They’ll be more outwardly confident to seek better education, better jobs and bring up the overall socioeconomic status of our city,” he said.

He noted Orillia doctors and dentists were recommending fluoride be added.

“I personally put a lot of weight and value in that advice,” he said.

Murray does as well.

“If your doctor gives you medical advice, 9.9 times out of 10 we’re going to accept it,” she said. “We’re not going to say, ‘I’m smarter than you. I have more information than you.’”

She noted milk has vitamin D added to it, salt has iodine and water has chlorine.

From October 2011 to May of this year, Orillia had two public forums and six community group presentations regarding fluoride. Also, Orillia Citizens Against Fluoridation made a deputation to council in May.

Residents seem to be “divided,” staff stated in a report.

“Approximately 85% of individuals submitting input during the public consultation process have been opposed,” staff said.

However, independent polling conducted as recently as 2011 indicated 64% of randomly selected Orillians supported adding fluoride to public drinking water, with 25% opposed and 11% undecided, the report states.

“The people that we’re hearing from are not the silent majority that support fluoridation, but those who are actively going from community to community against fluoridation,” Murray said. “A decision not to fluoridate would be a regrettable, missed opportunity to improve community health and (would be) a major disservice to our residents.”

If fluoridation had been approved, renovations would have been needed at the west Orillia well and water treatment plant in order to store the fluoride at an estimated cost of $160,000 to $180,000.

“Not only is fluoridation affordable; it will actually save money,” Murray said. “Thirty-eight dollars in direct dental cost for every $1 spent.”