WVU’s Dental Health Study Involves 300 West Virginia Families

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –   More than 300 families in Webster and Nicholas counties, West Virginia, are participating in a research project designed to pinpoint the causes of poor dental health in rural Appalachia.

“Studying families instead of individuals is extremely helpful in understanding dental health,” says Rich Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D., of the West Virginia University School of Dentistry.

The Dental Health in Families Project evaluates each family every two years, and includes a wide variety of people in the community and on campus – dentists, dental hygienists, geneticists, psychologists, pathologists and microbiologists.

“We are gathering an unprecedented amount of information that will be crucial to understanding the critical elements of oral health,” Crout said.  “Our research project findings indicate that in our Appalachian centers, 34 percent of children age one to six have at least one cavity – a rate much higher than the national average.”

Poor oral health in children may be one of the reasons why West Virginia leads the country in having the highest rate of adults age 65 and older who have lost all of their natural teeth.

“Nearly 43 percent of West Virginians in that age group have lost all of their teeth, compared to the national average of 20.5 percent,” Crout said.

Community health providers in the two rural counties are active participants in the study. Families can have dental examinations at one of four locations: Camden-on-Gauley Medical Center, Richwood Area Community Hospital, Webster County Memorial Hospital or Summersville North Side Plaza.

The project, a joint effort by the dental schools of WVU and the University of Pittsburgh, includes an oral cancer check along with full dental, gum disease and orthodontic screenings for each family member.  Blood and saliva samples are also taken from participants.  An interview with each of the family members helps establish their dental history, and their attitudes toward dental care.

The organizers hope to enroll 200 additional families over the next two years. The data already collected has provided the basis for research papers on a wide variety of topics.

“We’ve studied oral microbiology, cardiovascular risk, the link between genetics and cavities, fear of dentistry and many other subjects,” said Dr. Crout, who serves as the associate dean for research in the WVU School of Dentistry and principle investigator for WVU’s portion of the grant.  “We expect that this project will have an immediate impact in the Webster and Nicholas counties – as people and families become more aware of their oral health issues – and a long-term impact around the state and across the world as we develop interventions.”

The Dental Health in Families Project is supported by a grant from The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Other participating WVU researchers include Dan McNeil, Ph.D., Hilda Heady, M.S.W., John Thomas, Ph.D., Sharon Wenger, Ph.D., and Marybeth Hummel, M.D.

For more information on the WVU School of Dentistry visit www.hsc.wvu.edu/sod/.     

- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
cw: 06-12-06

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