The West Virginia University School of Dentistry recently received a $2.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study oral health disparities in northern Appalachia. The five-year National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) grant is called “Factors Contributing to Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia,” and is the largest NIH grant made to the School of Dentistry.
“In our previous study, children ages two to five had a much higher prevalence of cavities than the national average for this age group—144 times the national average. This new grant will give us the opportunity to study the early trajectory of oral disease from birth to age two years,” Richard Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research, said.
“We are recruiting 800 pregnant women in West Virginia, and expect to follow the mother and child until the child reaches the age of two years. Once we isolate the cause or causes, we can better implement oral disease prevention programs, hopefully reducing the oral health disparity in Appalachia.” he said.
Dr. Crout is the principal investigator. Other WVU investigators include faculty from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Medicine, and the School of Nursing. Faculty from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Michigan are collaborating with WVU.
The first U. S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, released in 2000, stated there were associations between oral bacteria and systemic diseases, indicating that people may be more likely to have an early heart attack, stroke, lung problem, or adverse pregnancy outcome if they have severe gum disease, than if they do not. The report also stated that there are marked oral health disparities. This is especially true in Appalachia where the population exhibits the worst oral health in the country.
Through a joint collaboration, WVU and the University of Pittsburgh received a seven-year grant in 2002 from the NIDCR to investigate variables for oral health disparities. WVU and Pittsburgh formed the Center for Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia (COHRA) to collaborate on this study.
In West Virginia, the only state with all 55 counties in Appalachia, one-third of children by age eight have untreated dental decay while one-third of adults under age 35 have lost at least six permanent teeth. In addition, 44 percent of those age 65 and older have lost all of their teeth. The national average is 20 percent.
Crout says that although further analysis needs to be completed, the main cavity bug, “Streptococcus mutans,” may be more virulent in families with significant oral disease than those families with a low rate of oral disease. Research has shown that it is impossible to have good overall health without having good oral health.
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Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087