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University Of Pittsburgh School Of Dental Medicine Receives $6.3 Million NIH Grant To Study Oral Health Disparities In Appalachia

PITTSBURGH, March 3, 2003 Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, in cooperation with West Virginia University's School of Dentistry, have received a 7 year, $6.3 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to determine factors that contribute to oral health disparities in Appalachia.

The grant is the largest NIH grant made to the School of Dental Medicine in the schools history.

According to Oral Health in America: A Report from the Surgeon General, there are wide spread disparities in oral health care in the United States; many Americans are uninformed about oral health, and oral health services are inaccessible. In addition, there is not adequate data to determine the cause of these disparities, making the planning and implementation of effective prevention and treatment programs difficult.

The population of Appalachia has the worst oral health in the United States, but we don't know what the specific causes of these disparities are, said Mary L. Marazita, Ph.D. associate dean for research and head of the division of oral biology at Pitts School of Dental Medicine and professor of human genetics. The primary reason we don't know the causes is that there has never been a study done in this population.

Through the grant, researchers will evaluate patients in existing Rural Health Consortium Clinics in Webster and Nicholas counties in West Virginia. Information will be gathered from a cross-section of families from the area on health behaviors, economic status, family structure and family environment to determine if any of these factors impact oral health. Blood samples also will be taken to determine if there are any genetic factors that contribute to poor oral health. Through this information, researchers hope to identify as many risk factors as possible.

We don't know why the people of Appalachia experience such a high incidence of oral disease, it could be for environmental, social, economic or genetic reasons, said Dr. Marazita. But once we isolate the cause or causes, we can better treat the population and implement oral disease prevention programs, hopefully reducing the oral health disparity in Appalachia.

Other researchers on this grant include: Robert Weyant, M.S., D.M.D., Dr.P.H.; Thomas Hart, D.D.S., Ph.D.; Ralph Tarter, Ph.D.; and Walter Bretz, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H.; all of the University of Pittsburgh and Richard Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D.; Dan ONeil, Ph.D.; Sharon Wenger, Ph.D.; all of West Virginia University.

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