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First Appeared Tuesday, 23 December 2008

School of Dentistry Tackles Oral Health Disparities with Largest-Ever Grant


fighting childhood cavities

By Robin Hindery

A seven-year, $24.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow the UCSF School of Dentistry to greatly expand its efforts to prevent early childhood tooth decay and address oral health disparities.

The grant, funded through the NIH National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, is the largest in the school’s 127-year history. Its size is a reflection of the school’s longstanding commitment to ensuring that all patients receive the highest quality care, said Jane Weintraub, DDS, MPH, professor and chair of UCSF’s Division of Oral Epidemiology and Dental Public Health.

“We’re trying a variety of different strategies to help underserved populations and reduce health disparities — from improving access to care and focusing on prevention, to increasing knowledge about the importance of oral health,” Weintraub said.

The new grant money will serve as the operating budget for the UCSF Center to Address Disparities in Children’s Oral Health (CAN DO), which was established in 2001 to prevent early childhood caries, a tooth decay in young children that is largely preventable but very difficult and expensive to treat.

The grant will enable CAN DO to not only launch new prevention and research efforts, but also focus on the factors that contribute to oral health disparities among various racial and ethnic groups.

“Dental caries is the most common chronic disease among children and it is becoming more prevalent nationwide, disproportionately among children in low-income families and certain minority groups,” said John Featherstone, PhD, dean of the School of Dentistry.

In a stark illustration of Featherstone’s point, a nationwide survey by the Centers for Disease Control between 1999 and 2004 found that 42 percent of Mexican-American children and 32 percent of black children ages 2-5 had decayed or filled teeth, compared to 24 percent of white children.

The NIH funding also will foster new partnerships between CAN DO researchers and their dental, medical and primary care colleagues, as well as with the federally-funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) health and nutrition program, said Weintraub, CAN DO’s principal investigator.

“For the past seven years, we have been working with communities to understand and prevent early childhood caries,” she said. “Now we want to disseminate the information we’ve gathered and get it incorporated into clinical practice and health policy.”

CAN DO’s efforts will build on the School of Dentistry’s long history of reaching out to the community and promoting superlative care for all patients, Weintraub said. That starts with the requirement that all UCSF dentistry students participate in externships at clinics in underserved communities throughout California.

In addition, in 1993, a group of UCSF dentistry students added dental care to the menu of services at an existing, University-run health clinic for homeless individuals. The resulting UCSF Homeless Dental Clinic currently serves patients at a city homeless shelter and one operative clinic on the Parnassus campus. Its organizers hope to expand the clinic to other sites.

Jane Weintraub with colleague

Jane Weintraub with colleague

“Through the community outreach, research and prevention efforts of the school, there are brighter prospects for every patient to have a healthier smile, especially in low-income communities,” Weintraub said.

Related Links:

UCSF School of Dentistry

The UCSF Center to Address Disparities in Children’s Oral Health

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

UCSF Offers Insight into Health Care Disparities Research

UCSF Diversity Website

Source: UCSF Today

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