UR Medicine’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health has been awarded a $3.5 million grant that, for the first time, will scientifically explore how family functioning, stress, and parenting behaviors may lead to Early Childhood Caries (cavities), a significant public health problem that disproportionately affects children living in poverty.
The grant is funded by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of National Institutes of Health. Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease—more common than asthma, obesity, and diabetes. ECC is painful and negatively affects speech, eating and nutrition, sleeping, learning, and overall quality of life.
“From an oral biology perspective, we fully understand what factors lead to ECC,” explained Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski, D.D.S, M.P.H., associate professor of Dentistry and the principal investigator of the project. “But despite the many attempts worldwide to prevent ECC, particularly over the past few decades, we’re not making substantial progress in reducing Early Childhood Caries. In fact, there is a distressing tendency for recurrence following treatment.”
This novel, inter-disciplinary study will follow more than 200 children ages 1 to 3 who are at a high risk for ECC, but are initially cavity-free, for two years. Children will be examined for cavities every six months and it will include assessment of nutritional, social, and behavioral influences on the risk of developing ECC. Findings from the study could substantially lead to improvements on the prevention of ECC.
Thomas O’Connor, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and director of URMC’s Wynne Center for Family Research, is a co-investigator and has a long history of studying how stress and family factors shape biological mechanisms that lead to behavioral and physical illnesses.
“Early Childhood Caries is a complex disease with many factors playing a role,” said EIOH Director Eli Eliav, D.M.D., Ph.D. “This study is critical in improving the knowledge base of how some of these factors determine risk for young patients.”
For nearly 100 years, EIOH has been treating underserved children. EIOH experts have made significant strides in evidence based research related to ECC, and have developed innovative approaches to education, improving access and care—including the State’s first mobile unit to reach underserved children in high poverty and rural areas, teledentistry, and training pediatricians and other providers on applying fluoride varnish.
Also on the project are Ronald Billings, D.D.S., M.S.D., EIOH director emeritus and professor of Dentistry; Robert Berkowitz, D.D.S., EIOH professor of Dentistry; Robert Quivey, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of EIOH’s Center for Oral Biology; andGene Watson, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor in the departments of Dentistry, Environmental Medicine, and Pharmacology and Physiology.