November 07, 2007

Researchers explore possible link between low birth weight and future oral health problems

Dental medicine experts will use $1.7 million NIH grant to examine area children

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Suchitra Nelson, Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine associate professor, will lead a team of researchers in a $1.7 million, four-year study from the National Institute of Craniofacial Dental Research (NICDR) of the National Institutes of Health. They will study babies born weighing three pounds or less to see if low birth weight babies are predisposed to oral health problems that might have an impact on dental care.

The researchers will follow 200 very low birth weight babies and 200 normal weight babies at birth, at eight months and at 18-20 months to see if the smaller babies experience differences in their oral health and tooth development. The children studied will be seen through clinics at the Metro Health Medical Center and the Case Medical Center at University Hospitals of Cleveland.

One of the factors that Nelson's group will look at is enamel defects in the first teeth. These defects make the teeth susceptible to dental caries. The researchers will also study the feeding, diet, oral hygiene practices, access to dental care and mother and child oral bacteria levels to see if these factors impact dental disease in the early months of these children's lives.

"The dental health of very low birth weight babies is not an area that has been well studied," said Nelson.

It is exciting to work with small children and find ways to help them, stated Nelson.

While gathering data through observations is the main purpose of the study, Nelson said the researchers will also suggest oral health interventions and see if the parents follow through.

"The results of this study will provide critical data to address the knowledge gaps in taking care of very low birth weight babies," added Nelson.

Case Western Reserve co-investigators involved with the project are Jeffrey Albert, Marc Collin, Gerald Ferretti and Maureen Hack. The project also involves researchers Peter Milgrom, Trilby Coolidge and Rebecca Slayton from the University of Washington; Hafsteinn Eggertsson from Indiana University; and Eva Soderling from the University of Turku.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, November 7, 2007 11:40 AM | News Topics:

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