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University of Iowa News Release


March 28, 2007

UI Researcher Receives Grant For Native American Dental Research

A University of Iowa College of Dentistry researcher has received a five-year, $3.29 million grant to study cavities among Native American children.

David Drake, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Endodontics and a researcher within the Dows Institute for Dental Research at the UI College of Dentistry, received the grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health.

In the study, Drake and his colleagues will follow the oral health of 200 pregnant Native American women and their babies for three years. The researchers will take dental plaque samples to monitor the transmission of Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium in plaque that is a primary cause of tooth decay. Mother-to-child transmission is the primary way of transferring the bacteria, Drake noted.

Although much research exists on the transmission of these bacteria from mother to child, Drake's study will be the first to examine the transmission in the Native American population.

"Native Americans have one of the worst cavity rates in the world," Drake said. "It is not uncommon to see a less than 2-year-old Native American child with completely decayed teeth."

Tooth decay among Native American children is the most prevalent and one of the most costly diseases of childhood. Almost 80 percent of Native American children between ages 2 and 5 have tooth decay. The rate of tooth decay among Native American children is more than three times higher than among the general U.S. population.

"Tooth decay in the Native American population is like a forgotten problem in the United States," Drake said. "Native American children ought to have as equal a chance at having healthy smiles as anyone else."

Drake's study will research the nature of the disease process. In turn, the researchers hope to better treat and prevent the disease.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, Writer: Krystal Loewe.