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University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and West Virginia University Receive Federal Grant to Determine Causes of Oral Health Disparities in Underserved Populations

PITTSBURGH, January 25, 2005 — The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has awarded an additional $1.47 million to the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine for a joint project with West Virginia University to determine the causes of oral health disparities in underserved populations.

In 2003, NIDCR awarded Pitt and WVU $6.1 million to conduct research aimed at determining how genetics and other familial factors contribute to oral health disparities in Appalachia, specifically in Webster and Nicholas counties in West Virginia. The new grant will allow the researchers to expand the scope of their research to include studying how environmental and behavioral factors can affect oral health and will expand the reach of the research to rural areas in Pennsylvania, namely Bradford and Burgettstown.

“Our preliminary work done on this project has already uncovered some important clues as to why people in Appalachia have poor oral health,” said Mary L. Marazita, Ph.D., associate dean for research and head of the division of oral biology at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine and professor of human genetics at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. “By expanding the reach of this project into rural Pennsylvania and by expanding criteria to incorporate the study of genetics, behavior, microbiology and environment into a single conceptual framework, we hope to find a large number of risk factors that cause oral health disparities in the region’s underserved populations, allowing us to better treat the population and to develop interventions to reduce the disparity.”

Information will be gathered from a cross-section of families 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. Researchers also will study community-level factors that affect the accessibility of dental care.

According to Oral Health in America: A Report from the Surgeon General, there are widespread disparities in oral health care in the United States; many Americans are uninformed about oral health, and oral health services are inaccessible to some populations. 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.

Other researchers on this grant include: Robert Weyant, M.S., D.M.D., Dr.P.H.; Ralph Tarter, Ph.D.; and Brion Maher, Ph.D., all of the University of Pittsburgh; and Richard Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D.; Dan McNeil, Ph.D.; Sharon Wenger, Ph.D.; John Thomas, Ph.D.; Hilda Heady, M.S.W., and Marybeth Hummel, M.D., all of West Virginia University.

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