Fluoride Action Network

Myths & Manipulation: Rockport’s non-binding election in Massachusetts

FAN Bulletin | June 3, 2015

We thank the writers of this letter submitted to the Fluoride Action Network. It describes a lack of integrity demonstrated by the local Boards of Health (BOH) in the Massachusetts communities of Gloucester and Rockport on idyllic Cape Ann. The two communities share an island and a newspaper. Island activists banded together about a year ago in an attempt to remove fluoridation from the two water supplies and several formed the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network. The local Boards of Health also established a relationship with each other, local dentists and national promoters of fluoridation to fight those efforts. Gloucester has been fluoridated since 1981, and Rockport since 1982. The days of being fooled by so-called experts are numbered.Paul & Ellen Connett 

To people of integrity:

On April 30th, three days after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USHHS) lowered the upper limit of the recommended fluoride level from 1.2 ppm to 0.7 ppm in fluoridated communities, the first change in over 50 years, the Rockport BOH held what they euphemistically called a ‘forum to discuss the myths, misinformation and meaningful use of fluoride.’  The school nurse sent an email to parents inviting them to attend in order to learn the ‘benefits of fluoridation.’ According to the forum rules, only the panelists selected by the BOH would be allowed to speak. All the panelists were supporters of fluoridation and included two proponents from off the island. Attendees were encouraged to write questions on index cards to submit to the panel, but those questions were neither read nor answered. Instead, the moderator simply asked the panelists to address a category that was mentioned on several of the cards in the last few minutes of the allotted time.

Aptly named, the event was indeed full of myths and misinformation. It also featured verbal sleights of hand as well as war stories. Dentist Myron Allukian, an avid fluoridationist, spoke the longest. He described volunteering his dental services in war torn Vietnamese orphanages during the 1960s. He and other panelists also told vivid stories of the pus-filled gums of children living in poor communities in the U.S. “who didn’t even own a toothbrush” and of the pain of toothaches.  Another vivid image was of pre-WWII dental health conditions. The panelists promised the attendees, literally promised them, that those days of pain, suffering and toothlessness would be revisited on Rockport if they stopped fluoridation. Talk about fear mongering.

Records from a Rockport schools dental program begun in 1925 paint a different picture. In 1933, 40% of the children in grades 1 thorough 6 had perfect permanent teeth, despite concerns about lack of milk for these Depression era children. Moreover, in 1934 the Rockport dental hygienist noted a dramatic drop in extractions and general improvement in dental health over a period of several years that was attributed to passing out toothbrushes, instruction on tooth brushing and annual cleanings. More modern studies of children living in communities that stopped fluoridation prove that the level of decay continues to drop after cessation, consistent with world-wide declining decay rates in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated regions also attributed to better oral hygiene, regular dental visits, and improved diet. None of this more relevant or modern dental detail was mentioned by panelists.

However, at one point in the midst of a number of intensive monologues, one of the panelists mentioned in passing that the “optimal” fluoridation standard had recently been changed to 0.7 ppm. He did not explain that this meant a 30% reduction in fluoridation for Rockport, but rather quickly emphasized the higher EPA contaminant levels as guarantees of safety. Predictably, the panelist also failed to mention that in 2006 the report by the National Research Council of the National Academies (NRC) on the toxicology of fluoride found those same “safe” EPA levels to be decidedly unsafe, but that is another story.

Indeed at no time before Rockport’s non-binding referendum on May 5th, did the BOH truly inform the town of the USHHS’ April 27th announcement or the April 28th Massachusetts Department of Public Health bulletin to municipal Boards of Health that advised towns to reduce their fluoridation level ostensibly for the purpose of reducing dental fluorosis which disproportionately affects non-white and low-income populations and results in more brittle teeth. Or if they did, like during the forum, it was artfully obscured.

Instead, the local paper ran a full-page advertisement several times in the week leading up to the election. Paid for by dentists, this ad declared in all caps that those opposing fluoridation are “ANTI-PUBLIC HEALTH FEAR MONGERS” making “bogus attacks.”

The panelists put on an excellent performance, getting laughs for their disparaging jokes about the naivety of those opposing fluoridation, derisively dismissing peer-reviewed studies documenting adverse effects, and expressing barely contained rage at opponents ‘who want to harm our poor children who can’t vote for themselves.’ Pep Rally or Kangaroo Court are more apt descriptions than panel or forum for this event.

As a matter of fact, the fluoridationists did try to get the opponents arrested. Members of the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network (CAFAN) were handing out information opposing fluoridation at the door. Someone called the police to say the group was barring access. No one was barred access, no one was arrested, and there were a hundred residents in attendance.

Myths and misinformation, indeed. Also, manipulation and censorship.

One letter from a Gloucester resident opposing fluoridation submitted almost three weeks earlier was published the day after the election with substantial edits. Another, from Dr. Hardy Limeback, a panelist on the 2006 NRC report, Fluoride in Drinking Water, was published online only while letters supporting fluoridation filled the papers the week before the election, along with a pro-fluoride editorial. Those pro-fluoride letters, largely from the dental community, contained outrageous statements allowed to stand as fact, such as an anecdote from a member of the Rockport BOH about a neighbor’s child she had seen decades earlier who had small pegs of chalky flaking teeth. Without any medical or dental examination, the Rockport doctor attributed that condition as due to lack of dietary fluoride and blamed the mother for not providing her child with fluoridated water in what we can only describe as the epitome of scare-mongering.

We are hard pressed to choose the most egregious demonstration of lack of scientific or personal integrity during what should have been a civil community dialogue. However, we have to say the deft suppression of the national news concerning the lowering the upper level of fluoridation by 40% prior to the election can’t be explained away as ignorance of the facts or arrogance. This was a dereliction of duty for the purpose of influencing an election. With approximately one third of the registered voters casting a ballot, Rockport voted 3:2 to keep fluoridation. Well done, Rockport BOH and Cape Ann dentists – your myths, misinformation and machinations won you the election.


Karen Spencer, Gloucester MA
Zenas Seppala, Rockport MA
Rose Ciulla, Gloucester MA
Terry Collins, Rockport MA
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