How Mom's Nutrition Impacts Baby's Oral Health

Jan. 9, 2023
Eastman Institute and RIT to Collaborate on New Study

Thanks to a new grant, Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center is teaming up with Rochester Institute of Technology to take a closer look at nutritional factors during pregnancy and in infancy that can negatively impact a baby’s oral health.

jin xiao preferred
Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD is an associate professor and perinatal oral health expert.

For the last several years, Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD, associate professor at EIOH and perinatal oral health expert, has been studying the oral microbiome in early infancy (OMEI). Her research has shown that among underserved racial and ethnic minoritized groups, when certain bacteria and yeast are present in the mother’s mouth, the child’s likelihood to get severe tooth decay, known as Early Childhood Caries, increases.

Since 2019, Brenda Ariba Zarhari Abu, PhD, RDN, assistant professor in RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, has been collaborating with Dr. Xiao and other University of Rochester researchers for a study she’s leading that assesses pica practice, oral health, and oral microbiome during pregnancy.

Pica, occurring most often in pregnant women and children, is compulsively eating items that have no nutritional value, including harmless items like ice, as well as potentially dangerous items like dried paint, clay, soil or metal.

Brenda Abu
Brenda Ariba Zarhari Abu, PhD, RDN, assistant professor in RIT's Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition

“People who have iron deficiency crave the taste and smell of non-food substances that make iron deficiency worse,” Abu said. “Pica may cause infections and the result can be devastating on maternal health, fetal development and can carry long-lasting consequences.”

This new grant, awarded by the National Institute Dental and Craniofacial Research, will fund OMEI + Nutrition, Impact of Nutrition on Oral Microbiome in Early Infancy, to examine perinatal nutritive such as dietary iron intake and nonnutritive behavior such as pica and their relationships with oral microbiomes during pregnancy and early life.

Bringing together the expertise of Drs. Xiao and Abu, the two-year, $380K grant will assess the effect of nutritive and nonnutritive eating behavior on the oral microbiome of pregnant women, assess the impact of maternal nutritive and nonnutritive eating behavior on infants' early-life oral yeast colonization and infection, and to explore microbial compositions of pica substances.

“The OMEI + Nutrition is the first study that examines the relationship between nutritive, such as dietary iron intake, and nonnutritive such as pica factors, on perinatal oral microbiome among underserved U.S. pregnant women and their children,” said Dr. Xiao. “The data generated will strengthen the understanding of children’s oral microbiome development and their association to tooth decay.”

The EIOH and RIT study team around a table
Experts from EIOH and RIT are working together to better understand how pica impacts baby's oral health. Dr. Yan Zang, Dr. Jin Xiao, Dr. Brenda Abu, Christian Lewis, Dr. Noha Rashwan, and Dr. Nisreen Al Jallad.

Other risk factors revealed from this study could be used as targets or prenatal counseling and ECC early prediction and prevention, specifically among underserved women and children.

The grant will also support Dr. Abu’s career development. “With my training and expertise in nutrition, my long-term career goal is to bridge the gaps in nutrition and oral research, and generate groundbreaking interventions for early warning, early detection, and prevention of oral diseases among underserved mothers and their young children,” said Dr. Abu.

Other team members include Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH, professor, Family Medicine, Steven Gill, PhD, professor, Microbiology and Immunology, Tong Tong Wu, PhD, associate professor Dept. of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, UR’s Michael Sohn, PhD, assistant professor, Dept. of Biostatistics and Computational Biology and Ying Meng, RN, PhD, assistant professor, School of Nursing. The advisor for the OMEI + Nutrition research is Eli Eliav, DMD, PhD, professor and director, Eastman Institute for Oral Health, University of Rochester.