Fluoride Action Network

McMahon: State rep. needs broader view. DiPentima takes fluoride fight too far

Source: Portsmouth Herald | February 18th, 2011 | By Charles McMahon

Never in a million years would I have guessed how controversial the subject of community water fluoridation could be.

When I first reported on the issue in November, I was amazed at the response I got from readers. Area dentists and physicians, along with elected officials, came out of the woodwork advocating for community water fluoridation and continued to reiterate a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling fluoride “one of the greatest public health achievements.”

On the other side were people like Portsmouth resident Rick Horowitz, who argued against community water fluoridation and asked that the city stop adding it to the water supply altogether, citing negative effects on young children. Horowitz also asked the Portsmouth City Council to take up a study on community water fluoridation, but to no avail.

Throughout the next several weeks, I received letters from dentists all over the community telling me how disappointed they were in me for reporting on the subject. I’m pretty sure I would have been hard-pressed to get a cavity fixed in the Seacoast around this time.

As time progressed, letters to the Herald continued to pour in, some of from national advocacy groups, some from more local dentists and many from state Rep. Rich DiPentima, D-Portsmouth.

Like some stories, I just assumed the controversial subject would eventually play itself out.

Boy, was I wrong.

In January, a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revealed two in five children in America show signs of fluorosis.

The report also recommended communities reduce fluoride to 0.7 milligrams per liter from the previous recommended upper limit of 1.2 milligrams.

Not long after the report was released, communities began to consider the recommendation and the state sent out a notice to water department operators.

The Portsmouth City Council voted Feb. 7 to lower the amount of fluoride it adds to the local water supply.

Before this meeting, I witnessed an interesting exchange between DiPentima and Horowitz.

The argument over community water fluoridation turned contentious between the two men. What caught my attention as I sat in the press box was DiPentima, who named study after study that, in his opinion, supported his advocacy for community water fluoridation.

I remember watching as DiPentima went so far as to stick his fingers in his mouth in an effort to show Horowitz his teeth.

It was quite a show for the handful of people who showed up at City Hall early for that night’s meeting.

Recently, the controversy rose to a new level when an elected official allegedly accused me of being on a crusade against both him and community water fluoridation.

The remarks were allegedly made by DiPentima before a House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs subcommittee meeting on Wednesday.

According to Stuart Cooper, campaign manager for the Fluoride Action Network, the lawmaker was standing with other members of the subcommittee and began to talk “about all of the anti-fluoride activists in Portsmouth.”

In addition, DiPentima was alleged to have said I was on a personal crusade against both him and fluoride, and accused me of thinking I could bully him into opposing fluoride, said Cooper.

Since I was not in Concord for the meeting, I asked DiPentima point blank about the accusation. He flat-out denied making the comments about me and called the story a “fabrication.”

Do I believe him? Sure, I guess. But that’s not the point.

It’s no secret that DiPentima and I have been at odds over the issue of fluoridation.

During my recent conversation with him, DiPentima asked me to be more “balanced” on the subject.

He apparently believes that, when I report what Horowitz has to say, it is presented as fact, while DiPentima believes those views are based on flawed science. In my view, I have written many stories on this topic and have given plenty of space to both sides of the issue.

To be clear, I understand and respect the fact that DiPentima has a strong background in the public health sector, especially in the area of fluoridation. DiPentima has been a strong advocate for the community’s health and well-being during his years in the Legislature.

But as someone who has been elected to serve the people of New Hampshire, DiPentima should not look at things in such a vacuum.

I’m no scientist, and I’m certainly not an expert, but it’s only common sense to think that, as science evolves and studies are updated, so are our opinions. Recommendations that once made sense in the 1970s may no longer make sense in 2011.

Just think what would life be like if we still refused to believe the world was round?