MOUNT DESERT, Maine --The Maine Dental Association expressed disappointment after residents voted to remove fluoride from the local drinking water, making Mount Desert the state's first community to make such a change.

The decision came after the Mount Desert Water District said studies conducted during the past few years call into question the safety of fluoridation. The vote in last week's referendum was 229-to-42 to remove fluoride.

The Maine Dental Association said it was aware of the claims made by the water district and believes the studies cited are questionable.

"We think there is ample support for the safety and efficacy of community water fluoridation, and that has been supported by numerous national and international organizations," said Frances Miliano, the association's executive director.

The decision marks the first setback in Maine's trend toward fluoridation of community water supplies. The dental association said 74 percent of communities add fluoride to public water, although two of the largest cities _ Portland and Augusta _ didn't take such action until the 1990s.

All five members of the Mount Desert district's board had endorsed removal of the chemical that had been added to the town water supply in 1963 to help fight tooth decay.

Paul Slack, the district manager, said the decision to promote the removal was not based on any one particular study but on a number of findings, including those suggesting that fluoridation poses increased risk of bone cancer and bone fractures.

Slack also noted that because fluoride has been found to be effective in preventing tooth decay when applied topically, there is no longer a need to swallow the chemical.

"When you take fluoride out the water, people may choose to apply it through toothpaste or mouthwash," he said. "So if they have that option, allowing it to remain in the public drinking water represents an unnecessary risk to health with little or no benefit."

While the rate of tooth decay in children has been dropping over the years, rising sugar consumption has caused the decline to level off, Miliano said. She said removing fluoride could cause the decay rate to begin rising.

She said the only other referendum to discontinue fluoridation took place in November in Jackman, where voters elected to maintain the status quo.

"We certainly hope this is just one small blip," she said of the Mount Desert vote. "Opinion polls show that the clear majority of the public believes that water should be fluoridated."