Dental health remains a prime goal
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
By John J. Monahan
Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER-- There will be no fluoride in the city's water supply. Voters once again blocked plans to begin adding fluoride to the city water supply, voting yesterday 56 percent to 44 percent against fluoridation. The victory came despite a $400,000 campaign aimed at convincing residents that fluoridation would reduce dental decay among children.

Opponents, operating on a shoestring budget, cheered as the voting results came in last night at City Hall. Many opponents had worked against a fluoridation campaign five years ago when the issue was defeated by a slightly bigger margin.

"I'm delighted," said Deborah Moore, a leader of the anti-fluoride campaign that obtained 15,000 signatures to put the referendum before voters after the city Board of Health last spring authorized fluoridating the water supply. They were opposed by city health officials and hundreds of local doctors and dentists.

"I think what this means is you can try to buy votes with money, but you can't buy the truth," Ms. Moore said. "People used their gut instincts. They don't want a chemical in their water, and they are angry that their rights would be violated to control their own medication," she said.

The measure has been rejected five times since the 1950s, and Ms. Moore predicted that fluoridation advocates will try again.

Leaders of the pro-fluoride campaign, however, indicated otherwise. "I doubt it," Dr. Wayne B. Glazier, chairman of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, said of another attempt to put the measure on the ballot. "We respect the majority opinion of the voters."

The foundation bankrolled the fluoride campaign. "I'm disappointed," he added, "but our approach has been not just the fluoride approach, but looking to educate the public" about the serious dental problems facing children in the city. "Hopefully more people are now aware of it, and in that sense we have been successful."

Deirdre Staples, a fluoride opponent, said the vote was so strong against fluoride that she doubts advocates will attempt another campaign. "If they come back in two years there will be an overwhelming outrage," she said. "If they try to order it again, people would be too outraged to accept that."

Ms. Staples said she was "very relieved" by the outcome. "We have been working nonstop. A lot of people have been spending their time and money trying to educate people in Worcester and it was not in vain."

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts spent more than $250,000 on advertising and political consultants even before a final weekend ad blitz. The group estimated it spent about $400,000 on the campaign.

Worcester Citizens for Total Health, which led the anti-fluoride campaign, had spent $5,196 on its campaign before last weekend.

Besides $8,325 in costs for staff at the Health Foundation, the fluoride proponents reported paying $157,025 to the Hock Research consulting firm of Needham, and another $51,000 to the Robertson Associates consulting group of Worcester. The campaign's advertising budget included $7,522 on billboards; $1,650 on public bus ads; $10,800 on cable television ads; $8,035 on radio ads; and $2,524 on print ads, not including the ad buys in the last days of their campaign.

Most of the opposition group's spending went to postage, printing brochures and bumper stickers, and a few radio and television spots. Ms. Moore said the effort relied heavily on 100 volunteers, many of whom held signs throughout the day yesterday urging people to vote no.

Janice B. Yost, HFCM executive director, last night urged fluoride opponents to help the foundation move forward to provide better access to dentists and dental care now that the fluoride been decided.

Dr. Glazier said the fluoride issue was only one avenue the group has pursued to improve dental health for children here.

"We are going to work toward access to dental care, and work with the dental community to get fluoride to people who need it," he said. The entire community should be aware of the need for children to get fluoride sealants and fluoride supplements to protect their teeth.