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24 July 2000

UCSF School Of Dentistry Center Grant Funds Research To Prevent Childhood Tooth Decay

A five-year $900,000 study to determine how best to prevent childhood dental caries (tooth decay) at the UCSF School of Dentistry Comprehensive Oral Health Research Center of Discovery has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. More than 400 young patients from six months to three years old will be seen at clinics located at San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center Family Dental Center and the Chinatown Public Health Center, according to Jane Weintraub, DDS, MPH, UCSF's Lee Hysan professor of dentistry.

Researchers will study how race/ethnicity, family income and level of education and other social, behavioral and biological factors can affect the dental health of San Francisco's children in Chinatown and in the Mission District. One previous study found that up to 30% of children under age six at San Francisco health centers already had early childhood caries (ECC), previously called baby bottle tooth decay, and ECC was particularly prevalent among Latino and Asian children, according to Weintraub, who is also chair, division of oral epidemiology and dental public health, department of preventive and restorative dental sciences. Parents who have not traditionally taken toddlers to the dentist will be encouraged to bring them to the two clinics to have their oral health monitored and to prevent future dental problems.

National research has shown that two to four-year-olds from poor families are four times more likely to have untreated tooth decay than children from families with middle or high incomes. The UCSF study will look at populations less likely to have dental insurance/dental services and which have high rates of untreated tooth decay. Children from higher income families are 12 times more likely than children in low income families to have preventive dental sealants on their teeth, according to Weintraub. As part of the study, the researchers will apply fluoride varnish once or twice a year and counsel families about dental health and compare these groups with those who have counseling only.

The UCSF study will confront the "silent epidemic" of oral diseases described in a recent report released from Surgeon General David Satcher which cited a lack of dental coverage among the poor and dental health disparities among populations in the United States. The Surgeon General's report stated that about 30 percent of Americans now over 65 have no teeth as a result of dental problems, and the percentage is higher among those living below the poverty line.

Other researchers working on the study include Project Director Francisco Ramos-Gomez, DDS, MS, MPH, UCSF associate professor and pediatric dentist, department of growth and development; and from the department of preventive and restorative dental sciences: Chair John Featherstone, PhD, UCSF professor; Stuart Gansky, DrPH, UCSF assistant professor; and Charles Hoover, DDS, DrPH, UCSF assistant adjunct professor. The UCSF team will be collaborating with B. Alex White, DDS, DrPH, from the Portland, Oregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest Hospital, to make a comparison of data with an insured pediatric dental population.

UCSF has a goal of recruiting 400 families for the study. For more information on enrollment, please call (415) 476-5692.

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