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Release: Nov. 13, 2002

UI dentistry professor wins grant to study tooth decay in young children

John Warren, D.D.S., University of Iowa assistant professor of preventive and community dentistry, has been awarded a $551,250 grant by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research to study tooth decay in young children.

While tooth decay has become less of a problem for many preschool-age children in recent years, low-income and minority children continue to have a higher rate of caries (cavity-causing tooth decay). To understand this disparity, Warren will look at the causes of tooth decay in low-income and minority children and determine how to address the problem for future preventive care.

"It's a problem that needs attention, as it is the most common childhood illness," Warren said. "It doesn’t go away by itself and is expensive to treat, especially in young children. So, it’s a very important problem to address."

For about 18 months, Warren will follow a group of about 300 one-year-old children enrolled in WIC (a government program aimed at improving nutrition for Women, Infants and Children) in Muscatine and Louisa counties, which have large Hispanic populations. The study will collect information on caries occurrence, beverage consumption, fluoride exposures, levels of Streptococcus mutans (a bacteria that can cause tooth decay) and the clonal type of the bacteria, and host genetic markers (which may include a genetic predisposition to tooth decay).

Previous studies on the topic have taken a one-time look at the situation. To help create possible intervention and preventive care, a continuous, longitudinal study with a "before" and "after" element is needed, Warren said. Looking at one-year-olds is also a unique aspect of Warren's study.

"The study is going to be a challenge, but it's exciting to have the opportunity to address an issue on the forefront of health and dental care," Warren said.

The University of Iowa General Clinical Resource Center is also supporting the study.

Co-investigators on the study include: Rebecca Slayton, D.D.S., a former faculty member in the UI College of Dentistry; David Drake, Ph.D., associate professor of endodontics and a researcher with the UI College of Dentistry's Dows Institute for Dental Research; Teresa Marshall, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of preventive and community dentistry; Deborah Dawson, Ph.D., professor of preventive and community dentistry; Michael Kanellis, D.D.S., head and associate professor of pediatric dentistry; and Steven Levy, D.D.S., professor of preventive and community dentistry.