H. Berton McCauley

Dr. H. Berton McCauley, former chief of the dental division of the Baltimore Health Department, who led the controversial battle that resulted in the city's water supply being fluoridated nearly 60 years ago, died Oct. 23 of prostate cancer at his Hadley Square home. He was 98.

"He made the biggest public health impact with the fluoridation of Baltimore's drinking water. And think of all the kids it benefited," said Christian S. Stohler, dean of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.

"It was not an easy thing to do at the time, and he single-handedly made it possible. Bert clearly had the passion to make a difference," said Dr. Stohler.

The son of a businessman and a homemaker, Henry Berton McCauley — he never used his first name — was born in Duluth, Minn., and moved in 1920 with his family to a home in Govans.

After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1931, he began studying at the Baltimore Dental College — the dental school of the University of Maryland — where he earned his degree in 1936.

While maintaining a part-time dental practice, Dr. McCauley was a full-time instructor of oral roentgenology — the use of X-rays for the treatment of oral disease — at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.

In 1940, Dr. McCauley moved to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry as a Carnegie Fellow in Dentistry, where he conducted radiology research and the application of radioactive isotopes.

While at Rochester, he became involved with the War Department as a consultant for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. He conducted clinical investigations into the dental and nondental effects of fluoride exposure.

Dr. McCauley was appointed an assistant professor of dentistry in 1943 and head of dental research at the University of Rochester.

In 1945, he was commissioned in the U.S. Public Health Service and assigned to the National Institutes of Health.

While at NIH, he conducted research into gingivitis in Coast Guard trainees, poliomyelitis as a possible consequence of dental tooth decay, and the health effects of natural variation of fluoride in water.

In 1949, Dr. McCauley became the first director of the newly established Bureau of Dental Care of the Baltimore Health Department, where he developed and initiated a full-scale preventative and maintenance dental health program for schoolchildren and those of all ages who received public assistance.

Dr. McCauley's crusade for the fluoridation of Baltimore's water — which he considered his lasting achievement — did not come without stout opposition.

In what became known as the McCauley report, Dr. McCauley declared that it was "safe to use fluorine in proper proportions because several hundred thousand people spend their entire lives in areas where the chemical is naturally present in the water," The Baltimore Sun reported in 1951.

He wrote in the report — which had the support of Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. — that people who lived in areas where there was fluoride had "two-thirds less tooth decay" and "lost their teeth at a considerably slower rate than people in fluoride-free sections," reported the newspaper.

He also told The Sun that it "works best when regularly ingested by children whose teeth are being formed."

At the time, the Daughters of the American Revolution attempted to block the introduction of fluoride while others said it was part of a communist plot to poison Americans. In early 1952, a suit was brought by several citizens to enjoin the city from fluoridating its water.

Dr. McCauley chalked it up to the era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and said many anti-fluoride groups "were just expressing fear."

When Mr. D'Alesandro pushed a button at the No. 1 Montebello filtration plant on Nov. 26, 1952, that began adding fluoride to the city's water supply — one part per million — Baltimore made history, becoming the first large city in the nation to take such a step.

The water that was to be fluoridated served an estimated 1,180,000 consumers not only in Baltimore but also in sections of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

Dr. McCauley said at the time that it would "mark a milestone in public health history."

By 1969, Dr. McCauley told The Sun that "decay reductions of up to 60 percent have been observed among children who have been raised on fluoridated water."

In 1976, Dr. McCauley was designated a health adviser to Mayor William Donald Schaefer, and two years later, the mayor added him to his staff to head the city's battle against tuberculosis. The city had the worst tuberculosis rate in the country in 1974 and fighting the disease became a major program of Mr. Schaefer's.

Dr. McCauley retired in 1980.

Dr. McCauley had been chairman of the American Dental Association Section on Public Health in 1968 and earlier had been the president of the Maryland Society of Dentistry for Children.

He also had been president of the Maryland Public Health Association and the Baltimore City Dental Society.

Dr. McCauley wrote or co-authored more than 50 papers on dentistry and public health. The Maryland State Dental Association presented him its Distinguished Service Award in 1986.

He also was an expert on dental history and lectured widely on the subject. He was known for his illustrated lecture on George Washington's false teeth.

Dr. McCauley had been secretary-treasurer and later vice president of the American Academy of Dentistry. He had also been one of the original directors of the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry at the University of Maryland dental school.

"He put his heart and soul into the dental school," said Dr. Stohler.

Dr. McCauley was a student of Maryland and Baltimore history. He enjoyed traveling by train and was a member of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Historical Society. He also collected books on railroads and dental history.

His wife of 60 years, the former Claire Ann Wolf, died in 1998.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 1 p.m. Friday at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church, 2801 N. Charles St.

Surviving are a brother, William James McCauley of Tustin, Calif.; and many nieces and nephews.