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Kennebunk area dentists help derail fluoridation challenge

August 12, 2014

By Stacie Crozier

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Kennebunk, Maine —
Thanks in part to quick action by local dentists, community water fluoridation will not be on the ballot in November for voters who live in the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District.

One of Maine's largest water districts, it serves the towns of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Ogunquit, Arundel and portions of Biddeford and York. The water system serves the region with a combined population of more than 70,000 people in the summer months and nearly 30,000 the rest of the year.

Voters in the seven communities voted to fluoridate in November 2002 and fluoridation began in early 2003.

Dr. Jim Trentalange, a general dentist in Arundel, and his wife were interested in an action about the local skate park coming before the Kennebunk board during its meeting July 8 and happened to notice that a discussion on fluoridation was also on the agenda. They alerted Dr. Lisa Howard and her husband Dr. Joe Kenneally about the agenda item.

Dr. Howard, an orthodontist in Scarborough, a past Maine Dental Association president and past chair of the ADA National Fluoridation Advisory Committee and Dr. Kenneally, a general dentist in Biddeford, past ADA vice president and past MDA president, had to act quickly.

"We were having dinner, and the meeting was going to start in a half hour," said Dr. Howard. "So we quickly got some information together and met Dr. Trentalange at the meeting."

Dr. Howard said all three of them spoke before the board, but the selectmen decided that the issue was complicated and they wanted to seek public input on the matter. They set a town meeting for July 22.

To stop fluoridating, at least four of the towns served by the water district would have had to vote to put the question on the November ballot by Aug. 5 — 90 days before the gubernatorial election. The measure can only be voted on during a presidential or a gubernatorial election.

Local dentists responded by organizing dentists to attend each of the town board meetings armed with information to share with selectmen and others at the meetings, Dr. Howard said. By the next week, when it was clear that there would not be a majority of the towns in favor of putting the issue on the ballot, Kennebunk cancelled its town hall meeting and by the end of the month the citizen who had requested the petition withdrew her request.

Dentists involved in the effort also included Drs. Karen Hall, Nii Norte Lokko, Bryan Redusky, Lee Richheimer and Dean Tourigney.

"We are now putting a sentinel system into place to monitor what's happening at the community level," Dr. Howard said. "This will enable us to have dentists, physicians, nurses, teachers and other advocates armed with the facts to present to local governments and to educate the public when needed."