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Study Shows High Gum Disease Rates in Rural Appalachia, Sheds Light on Reasons for Tooth Loss
Date:9/12/2008

d the virulence of the disease-causing organisms in the mouth surprised the researchers, Crout says.

"These findings are significant in a state that leads the nation in all those who have lost all their teeth over the age of 65," Crout says. "The national average is 20 percent, but in West Virginia, it's 43 percent."

The West Virginia families in the study live in Webster and Nicholas Counties. The Pennsylvania families are from the towns of Burgettstown and Bradford.

WVU's portion of the National Institutes of Health grant is approximately $3.12 million. WVU researchers have followed the West Virginia families since 2002, studying genetic as well as environmental factors including attitudes, behaviors and beliefs. They are also examining microbial samples.

The study is part of COHRA -- the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia. Originally involving only WVU and the University of Pittsburgh, the study has expanded to include the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa.

The researchers say parents and grandparents who have already lost their teeth are likely to transmit attitudes to the next generation. "Too often the attitude is, 'Don't worry, you're going to lose them anyway,'" Crout says.

When Crout travels throughout West Virginia giving presentations to students on the importance of oral health, he sometimes meets schoolchildren who come up after the talk and say, "Hey, Mister, what's this bump?" The child will crook a finger inside his cheek to offer a look, and Crout will observe a large, untreated abscess of the tooth.

A large abscess sometimes means the mouth can't be numbed. So the child's first visit to the dentist may end up being painful. Fear of pain may lead to a lifelong reluctance to visit the dentist.

"We have found that dental fear is highest in the very young. It may be one of the reasons that, by the age of 8, one-third of children have untreated dental decay in West Virgin
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SOURCE West Virginia University Health Sciences Center
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