Plans to fluoridate Wairoa’s water supply have been canned, amid jubilation from anti-fluoridation campaigners and bitter disappointment from health workers.

The Wairoa District Council has voted 5-4 to rescind a decision made last October, in which the council voted equally narrowly to introduce fluoridation.

Wairoa resident Sylvia Cole, whose anti-fluoridation petition had gathered more than 690 signatures, said she was “absolutely gob-smacked” by the success of the campaign.

“I think the council was bulldozed into it, and the community didn’t have a chance to hear all sides of the argument.”

Rather than the council medicating people en masse, parents could give their children fluoride tablets or toothpaste if they wished, Mrs Cole said.

But Kevin Atkinson, chairman of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, said board members were “stunned and disappointed” by the decision.

“It makes our job so much harder when proven methods of improving oral health … are dismissed because of scaremongering in the community.”

Five-year-olds in Wairoa had an average of 6.07 decayed, missing or filled teeth, more than three times the national average, he said.

The mobile surgical bus would be in Wairoa again next month, and children would again be lining up to have teeth extracted due to decay and abscesses.

“We know a healthy diet and regular brushing are important, we also know fluoride in the water could have helped those who can’t help themselves,” Mr Atkinson said.

It was disappointing the board had not been given a chance to respond to concerns about fluoridation or correct “misinformation being circulated by a few vocal residents”, he said.

The motion to reverse the fluoridation decision was put by Cr Des Blake, who was not present at the October special meeting.

“In going ahead with it, we were literally attempting to shove down the throats of our ratepayers something we as individual councillors are unqualified to do,” he said.

Wairoa mayor Les Probert said while the U-turn was being hailed as a victory by some, it was a defeat for children’s health – especially as councillors had not put forward any compensatory measures to improve dental health.