The Rotorua District Council has decided not to fluoridate the city’s public water supply.

The council voted unanimously this week not to support a request from Rotorua health professionals to make fluoridation a priority in its long term plans for the city.

Councillors also ruled out holding a referendum on the issue.

Instead, they agreed to ask the Ministry of Health to look into alternative methods of improving the oral health of Rotorua’s population.

The decision puts an end to nearly two years’ debate between health officials and anti-fluoride campaigners who crossed swords over the issue.

The Lakes District Health Board signaled its intention in 2002 to lobby the council to support fluoridation.

Earlier this year, Rotorua GPs, Maori health providers and dentists joined with pubic health officials in a campaign to educate the public about water fluoridation and its impact on tooth decay.

They claimed fluoridation was the safest and most cost-effective way of reducing decay, regardless of socio-economic status.

But opponents, such as Rotorua’s Fluoride Free Water Group, argued fluoridation was “mass medication” which denied people freedom of choice. The group was also concerned about the potential harmful effects a lifetime of fluoride might have.

Group members Martin Sharp and Pauline Davey likened their battle to a “David versus Goliath affair.”

“We were battling health bureaucrats with all their money and big business with all their pull to try and get rid of their [toxic substances],” said Mrs Davey.

Mr Sharp said the council’s decision indicated councillors were not convinced that fluoridation was the best way to reduce tooth decay.

Meanwhile, fluoridation advocates are licking their wounds.

Rotorua dentist and Lakes District Health Board chairman Stewart Edward said he was “very disappointed” by the council’s decision.

“Every dentist will tell you a horror story… and fluoridation is the best value option in terms of ratepayer money spent,” he said.

Rotorua General Practice Group chairwoman Bev O’Keefe said the council should have consulted an independent expert on fluoridation before making its decision.

Before voting, councillors agreed they couldn’t turn a blind eye to children’s teeth problems, but fluoridation was not the right direction.

“They need to come up with a better way to make sure children who have problems get fluoride tablets,” Cr Janet Wepa said.

Cr Glenys Searancke said the council needed to approach central government to see what it could do.

Debate over whether to fluoridate Rotorua’s water is among the most contentious issues in the city’s history.

In the 1970s the then Rotorua City Council decided to fluoridate but a referendum found most people didn’t want it. In April 1979, councillors rejected a motion to continue fluoridating water in the district.