Faculty and Staff, Research

School Researchers Receive Two Research Grants Focusing on Children’s Oral Health

UNC School of Dentistry researchers were recently awarded two significant research grants from the National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to further examine aspects of children’s oral health.

Dr. Kimon Divaris, associate professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, is the principal investigator on a five-year award totaling $8.4 million called “Genome-Wide Association Study of Early Childhood Caries”, also known as “ZOE-Genes for Smiles (G4S).” ZOE-G4S is a large-scale genetic epidemiologic study of early childhood caries (ECC), the most common chronic disease of childhood and an important public health problem that is characterized by marked social, economic, and racial/ethnic disparities. This five-year project will investigate the genetic underpinning of ECC among a multi-ethnic community-based sample of approximately 9,000 preschool children in North Carolina. For the first time, an ECC genomics study will include substantial proportions of minority populations traditionally under-represented in research, including African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos. The ZOE-G4S project includes a trans-ethnic genome-wide association study for ECC and will examine the joint contribution of environmental, behavioral and genomic influences on early childhood oral health. The study’s results have the potential to identify important genomic factors that underlie oral health and disease, and can inform risk stratification and disease prediction for targeting susceptible groups or individuals with early, intensive caries-preventive protocols.

Coinvestigators for ZOE-G4S from the School of Dentistry include Dr. Gary Slade, John W. Stamm Distinguished Professor in the Department of Dental Ecology, and Dr. Andrea Zandona, associate professor in the Department of Operative Dentistry. This multidisciplinary project includes investigators from the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Dr. Kari North, professor in the Department of Epidemiology; and Dr. John Preisser, research professor, and Dr. Danyu Lin, Dennis Gillings Distinguished Professor, both in the Department of Biostatistics.

Dr. Anne Sanders, associate professor in the Department of Dental Ecology, and aforementioned Dr. Gary Slade are the co-principal investigators on a second large research grant. The $1.2 million grant called “Sociopolitical Policies that Reduce Disparities in Children’s Oral Health” will examine state-to-state variation in policy adoption to determine which policies best reduce income and racial disparities in oral disease among children in the United States. A particular focus of this population-based epidemiological study is to determine whether the protective effect of fluoridated drinking water against dental caries is greater among socially disadvantaged groups than among more advantaged groups.

Two coinvestigators are faculty at UNC: Dr. Lewis Lampiris, clinical associate professor in the Department of Dental Ecology and director of the Dentistry in Service to Communities program; and Dr. Sally Stearns, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management from the Gillings School of Global Public Health and senior researcher at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Other coinvestigators are employed by the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science: Dr. Thomas Carsey, Thomas J. Pearsall Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the director of the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science; Dr. Jonathan Crabtree, assistant director for cyberinfrastructure; and Ms. Sophia Lafferty-Hess, digital archivist. Collectively these lead investigators bring political science analysis and digital archiving expertise to the study.

“The UNC School of Dentistry is excited to have these new grants awarded to our faculty,” said Dr. Eric Everett, associate dean for research. “Both projects address significant children’s oral health issues and have high impact by exerting a sustained and powerful influence on oral health in children.”