CONTACT: C. LINDON LARSON
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9569; fax (319) 335-8034
Unique UI study of benefits of fluoride adds new research goals with
help from families
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A unique University of Iowa study of the benefits
of fluoride is expanding to address new scientific issues, thanks to hundreds
of Iowa families who have offered detailed information about their children's
dietary and health habits.
Initiated in 1991 by Dr. Steven Levy, professor of preventive and community
dentistry at the UI College of Dentistry, the study began as an effort
to link fluoride intake with tooth development, decay prevention and dental
fluorosis -- discoloration of the teeth caused by too much fluoride during
early tooth development. But the data collected may provide insights into
a range of topics.
"This is the only study of its kind to recruit a group of subjects
at birth and examine fluoride intake over time," Levy says. "It
is very rare that a group like this is put together and kept together.
We've worked with colleagues throughout the university to assemble questions
that this study might help answer."
Every few months, parents of children enrolled in the study complete
questionnaires that detail what foods and beverages the children consume,
the sources of the water they drink, their dental health habits and use
of fluoride toothpaste or tablets, and other information. About 700 families
currently are participating in the study.
When the children reach age 4 1/2 to 5, researchers examine their teeth
and link tooth characteristics to questionnaire data. With the youngest
participants currently age 3, this component of the study will take two
more years to complete. The National Institute of Dental Research recently
provided additional funding to carry it through this stage.
Researchers have begun a new project that uses data from the same unique
study group. Participants receive specialized, very low radiation x-rays
of developing bones when they come to the UI for dental screenings. The
goal is to link bone density and mass with dietary factors that include
not just fluoride, but also calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients.
"We feel very fortunate that the majority of participants have
consistently provided us with useful information. We've asked them to do
a lot for only token compensation," Levy says, adding that aside from
their expenses and a few small premiums like mugs or t-shirts, participating
families get only the satisfaction of contributing to an important research
Data gleaned from the questionnaires also have spawned scientific publications
on childhood illnesses and antibiotic use, feeding patterns among infants,
and the fluoride content of infant formulas, baby foods, bottled waters
and juices. Though the study is years from completion, its early findings
have already helped establish dietary fluoride supplement guidelines developed
by several dental and pediatric health organizations.