Conspiracy theories are flying, teeth are decaying and a part-time magician is gulping down toothpaste to make a point.

It's enough to make an outsider think there's something in the water.

Actually, the issue gripping this eastern Indiana city on the eve of Tuesday's election is what's not in the water: fluoride.

Dentists desire it, a group of safe water activists fear it and City Council candidates in Tuesday's election wish the subject would just disappear.

Connersville, population 15,550, is the largest city in Indiana without fluoridated water, and studies show it has a 20 percent higher rate of cavities than the state average.

"Not only do they have more cavities, but it advances at such a fast rate, it's a real problem," said John Roberts, a local dentist.

Even so, two previous fluoridation campaigns have been drilled to defeat. And as elections near, dentists and concerned citizens insist reluctant candidates take a stand on fluoridation.

In a smoke-filled barber shop, outgoing Councilman Virgle Carey sits amid a group of men shouting their "expert" opinions on fluoridation. Carey just shakes his head.

"It's the number one issue around here," he says, chuckling. "I'm sure glad I won't have to deal with it."

Mary Hendershott and the opposition group Citizens for Safe Water say the introduction of fluoride into public water systems is a government conspiracy, a public relations ploy that has duped Americans into believing it's safe.

The group claims corporations and the U.S. government are disposing of toxic waste by slowly diluting it into drinking water and calling it fluoride, and the more than 200 million Americans who drink fluoridated water are losing brain cells and developing brittle bones with each gulp.

During a public meeting on the issue, Rusty Ammerman--a fluoride supporter and traveling magician--consumed an entire tube of fluoride toothpaste just to prove it wouldn't kill him.

The anti-fluoride faction claimed the magician used some sleight of hand to switch to a tube of non-fluoridated paste.

"In all my travels I see all different kinds, and you realize that each town has its issue," Ammerman says. "But it's so embarrassing to think that places like Nimrod, Minnesota, have fluoride and we don't."

Fluoridating water systems began in 1945, when the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., agreed to be a test site. An 11-year study found the cavity rate among Grand Rapids children dropped by more than 60 percent.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described fluoridation as one of the century's most significant advances in public health.

Hendershott isn't convinced. She claims national organizations supporting fluoridation receive corporate kickbacks. Nothing has been proven.

"The more they talk, the better we sound," Roberts says of the anti-fluoride front. "I don't know anything that's been researched more thoroughly than fluoridation. And it's never been found to cause any of the problems they claim."