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Michigan town votes to return fluoridation

Mt. Pleasant , Mich.— By a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent, voters here opted Nov. 8 to put fluoride back in their drinking water.

The 25,000-some citizens of this city in the center of Michigan's lower peninsula had enjoyed the benefits of community water fluoridation since 1957.

But last year, a "clean water" ballot initiative turned off the taps by a narrow voter margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Dr. Daniel Kane, a Mt. Pleasant dentist and concerned citizen, said he went to a 9th District Dental Society meeting and raised his hand to ask a question when they were discussing fluoridation ballot strategy, "and they put me in charge. I told them I was too old, I wasn't experienced in politics or public speaking, but it didn't seem to matter."

So Dr. Kane says he started working with the Michigan Dental Association to devise strategies to educate local citizens about the confusing wording of the 2004 ballot initiative and about the benefits of fluoridation. He attended the 2005 National Fluoridation Symposium at ADA Headquarters in July, where he learned about political, legal, scientific and mechanical issues related to fluoridation and networked with a variety of speakers and attendees, from water system engineers to people—like him—who had conducted or were planning a pro-fluoridation campaign.

"I've been to a lot of continuing education programs," says Dr. Kane, "but I came out of the symposium with so much knowledge. I attended the spokesperson training session and, although I've never been a public speaker, it really prepared me for the work I had ahead of me—to speak before the city commissioners, participate in a League of Women Voters forum and be interviewed several times for local newspapers and a couple of radio shows. Everything was fantastic."

The campaign used direct mail pieces to all registered voters, radio spots, newspaper ads, postcards for dentists to distribute or mail to their patients, letters to the editor and yard signs that borrowed another Fluoridation Symposium attendee's campaign slogan, "Got Teeth? Get Fluoride."

"It was a real grassroots effort," says Tom Kochheiser, director of marketing and public information for the Michigan Dental Association. "Dr. Kane was co-chairman of the ballot proposal committee and the driving force behind the successful campaign. During the September meeting of the NDDS, we gave each member a water fluoridation background kit, complete with sample patient letters and editorials on a disk. They also received a quantity of postcards for distribution to patients."

"Our dental society is small," says Dr. Kane. "About 46 dentists in the three-and-a-half-county area and 16 in Mt. Pleasant. The dentists worked hard in a grassroots effort to reach their patients."

"'I'm thrilled. This is a statement,' " Dr. Kane told the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun after the victory at the polls. "'When people know the issues, I think they vote the correct way and it showed tonight.'"

The Sun article also included input from the citizen who organized the removal of fluoride from Mt. Pleasant's water supply:

"'This is surprising to me. Unbelievable,' said Gladys Mitchell, organizer of the 2004 ballot proposal that removed fluoride. 'The evidence is so overwhelming what (fluoride) does to the body.'"

Mitchell said the wide disparity in money between the two groups was probably a large factor in the measure's passage as well as tradition.

"'People trust their dentist,' Mitchell said. 'It's just real sad.' "

On the West Coast, voters in Bellingham, Wash. rejected a ballot measure to fluoridate by a margin of 53.03 percent to 46.97 percent, a difference of 1,363 votes out of 22,498 cast. Results of the mail-in vote were certified Nov. 29.

Three other communities will remain without community water fluoridation based on election results. Voters in Xenia, Ohio, Springfield, Ohio, and Tooele City, Utah, rejected community water fluoridation ballot measures.