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Dr. Arthur Bushel, WWII Army dentist and pioneer in fluoridation, dies

By JACQUES KELLY | The Baltimore Sun | Published: December 26, 2020

BALTIMORE (Tribune News Service) — Dr. Arthur Bushel, a retired dentist who taught at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was an expert on fluoridation, died of complications of normal pressure hydrocephalus Nov. 21 at the North Oaks Retirement Community. He was 99.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of Dr. Harry Bushel, a dentist, and his wife Bertha. He followed his father and also became a dentist, graduating from the Columbia University School of Dentistry in 1943 and returning after the war to Columbia to earn a master’s degree in public health.

Dr. Bushel was a dental officer during World War II. He observed that Army recruits lacked the most basic dental care and said that 10% of them didn’t meet the requirement to have two opposing teeth.

“He was stationed in Georgia and couldn’t believe how terrible the soldiers’ teeth were,” said his daughter, Faith Friedman. “After the war he decided to go into public health and gave up the idea of a private practice.”

“Art launched one of the first campaigns to prevent cavities by fluoridating the New York City water supply, “said Dr. Ellen J. MacKenzie, dean of the Bloomberg School. “At the School, Art chaired the Department of Health Services Administration from 1969 to 1983, when it was renamed Health Policy and Management,” she said in a statement.

Dr. Bushel oversaw the Bureau of Dental Health in the New York State Health Department in the late 1940s. He began a mobile dental clinic in a trailer that traveled across the state.

His Hopkins biography said he worked with Dr. David Ast on a pioneering fluoride study that compared the health and dental records of residents of two New York towns, showing that the town with fluoridated water had much lower rates of cavities among its children.

The biography also said that while Dr. Bushel was in New York, prior to 1969, he helped establish a scientific evidence base for fluoridation. He also collaborated with New York City health commissioner Leona Baumgartner to modernize the city’s public health programs. As chief of the Bureau of Dental Health from 1955 to 1965, he supervised the city’s 115 free pediatric dental clinics. He rose to become assistant commissioner of health and later first deputy commissioner.

Hopkins colleagues said Dr. Bushel’s two proudest accomplishments in New York were fluoridating the water supply in 1964 and creating the Public Health Research Institute of the City of New York, which operated like a small-scale National Institutes of Health to produce studies on major issues such asbestosis, methadone treatment, and the measles vaccine.

Dr. Bushel told an interviewer, “Leona gave me the assignment of selling fluoridation to the city, so I had a big political career.”

“He did not suffer fools gladly but had a lot of compassion for those in need,” his daughter said. “He had a great sense of humor and could be a man of few words. He was fun to be around, and his students loved him. His door was always open. He did not have a big ego and could explain anything in 25 words or less.”

Dr. MacKenzie said, “Art embodied what we strive to teach our students: how to lead with the evidence to develop and then implement programs and policies that will protect the health of millions of people and advance health equity.

“We were fortunate to have had Art at the School to teach the many lessons he learned firsthand on the front lines of public health,” she said.

Dr. Bushel moved to Baltimore in 1969 and joined Johns Hopkins as chair of Health Services Administration.

In the 1970s he directed the Public Health School’s Comprehensive Health Planning Program.

He worked to teach his students how to determine government, health workforce and infrastructure needs. “Using these principles, health ministries and agencies could plan and create policies designed to achieve the best health outcomes for the lowest cost,” a Hopkins statement said.

Dr. Bushel was called a leader in dentistry and public health.

“Art led an effort to convince the American Dental Association to end racially discriminatory membership policies in 1965,” said Dr. MacKenzie.

Dr. Bushel was a past president of the American Board of Dental Public Health and was the 1978 chair of the American Public Health Association Governing Board’s executive committee.

Dr. Bushel loved swimming and spent many summers at Brighton Beach and Far Rockaway in New York. After moving to Baltimore he spent his free time at Bethany Beach, Delaware. He attended Shriver Hall and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts and played classical music on his 1929 Steinway piano.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Glenn Bushel of Baltimore; another daughter, Betsy Shapiro, also of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife of 70 years, Miriam Rubin, a retired high school English teacher, died in 2018.

Services were private.

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