Herschel S. Horowitz, 71, a dental researcher for the Public Health Service who crusaded internationally for adding fluoride to public water supplies to prevent tooth decay, died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 10 at his Bethesda home.
Dr. Horowitz’s work at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, where he was chief of community programs and of clinical trials for the caries prevention and research branch, included investigations of fluorides in toothpaste and mouth rinses. He studied adding fluoride to dental sealants and school water supplies and he headed development of an international fluoride measurement index.
As spokesman for the American Dental Association on fluoridation issues and an international consultant on the issue, he often came under attack by anti-fluoride forces. Controversy over fluoridation of water supplies has not abated since the practice was introduced in 1945 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Opponents question its effectiveness and say it can be harmful.
The dental association long claimed that fluoridation could reduce the incidence of tooth decay as much as 65 percent. After fluoridation was introduced, tooth loss and decay in children began to decline dramatically, the National Institute of Dental Research found.
Dr. Horowitz acknowledged in recent years that new studies indicated that reductions might not be as extensive as once thought. But he continued to tirelessly promote fluoridation programs, receiving such honors as the dental association’s Fluoridation Merit Award.
Dr. Horowitz began his research “at a time when the only other work in caries prevention was being done by industry,” Dr. Ernest Newbrun, dentistry professor emeritus at the University of California at San Francisco, told the ADA News publication. “He presented an independent, reliable source for the profession.”
Dr. Horowitz was a native of Detroit who attended Wayne State University. He received a dental degree and master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan. He served in the Army Dental Corps in Japan in the 1950s. He was a public health dentist in Detroit before being commissioned by the Public Health Service in 1960. After he retired from the National Institutes of Health in 1985, he was a consultant to the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, and worked extensively in Central and South America, Japan, South Korea and China.
He was also a consultant to the Food and Drug Administration and the Council on Dental Therapeutics of the American Dental Association.
He was a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health and served as its president in 1983. His honors included the H. Trendley Dean Memorial Award of the International Association for Dental Research, the John W. Knutson Distinguished Service Award in Dental Public Health of the American Public Health Association and the Distinguished Service Award of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry.
Dr. Horowitz collected art, in particular American prints from the first half of the 20th century. He was a officer of the Washington Print Club.
Survivors include his wife of nearly 33 years, Dr. Alice M. Horowitz of Bethesda; two stepchildren, Robert L. Johnson and Jan J. Coulter, both of California; and three granddaughters.