Ebersole, Ph.D., director, UK Center
for Oral Health Research
goal is to develop information to demonstrate that
it is very important for physicians to consider a
pregnant woman’s oral health as part of their
overall health screening during prenatal care."
Jeffrey Ebersole, Ph.D., director of the Center for
Oral Health Research, UK College of Dentistry
19, 2002 (Lexington, Ky.) --
of Kentucky College of Dentistry researcher recently
received a grant to see if expectant mothers with
periodontal disease have an increased chance of giving
birth to pre-term, low birth-weight babies.
epidemiological studies noted that expectant mothers
with periodontal disease may have a three to seven
times greater risk of giving birth to pre-term and
low birth-weight babies.
Jeffrey Ebersole, Ph.D., director of the Center
for Oral Health Research at the UK College of
Dentistry, is principal investigator for a multi-institutional
study in collaboration with the University
of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
and The Forsyth
Institute in Boston. The study is now underway
at an NIH-supported National
Primate Research Center in San Antonio, Texas.
the center, Ebersole and his collaborators are looking
at pregnant baboons that develop periodontal disease
similar to humans, to see if there is a link between
oral infections and premature and low birth-weight
babies. Samples are
taken from the baboons in San Antonio and brought
to UK, where they are studied.
The study is being conducted with a five-year, $3.3
million National Institutes
of Health (NIH) grant, the largest research grant
in the history of the College of Dentistry.
Periodontal disease occurs when, due to poor oral
hygiene, bacterial plaque builds up on the teeth,
causing the gums to become inflamed, which damages
the bone and gums that support the teeth.
Kentucky has the second highest rate of edentulism
-- loss of all teeth -- in the U.S., often resulting
from periodontal disease. Also, when the bacteria
or their toxins from the mouth get into the blood,
they clearly increase the risk for general health
problems, like endocarditis and diabetes, and also
appear to contribute to pre-term and low birth-weight
An average of about 10 percent of births are pre-term
and 8 percent of infants born have a low birth-weight,
according to national health statistics. These rates
are even higher in minority populations and medically
underserved women, such as those in Eastern Kentucky
Appalachia. This rate has been virtually unchanged
over the last two decades.
Ebersole’s study uses baboons because of their
similarity to humans in both pre-term birth and periodontal
According to the U.S.
Surgeon General’s report, oral health is
integral to overall health. The mouth is a mirror
for general health and well-being.
“Good oral health is not just a matter of having
an attractive smile.” Ebersole said.
and his research collaborators in San Antonio and
Boston are trying to provide evidence to make oral
health a part of pregnant women’s prenatal care.
By receiving oral health care, even after conception,
it should be possible to deter the effects of gum
disease on the unborn baby and protect the newborn
“Our goal is to develop information to demonstrate
that it is very important for physicians to consider
a pregnant woman’s oral health as part of their
overall health screening during prenatal care,”
Not only will improving mothers’ oral health
lessen the risk of delivering early, but also it will
have short and long-term benefits to society. When
a pre-mature baby is admitted to a neonatal intensive
care unit, it is estimated to cost on average $30,000
more than if the baby was healthy.
“With more than 4,000 infants born each year
in Kentucky pre-mature or at low birth-weight, it
is easy to see the immediate costs to the Commonwealth,”
“As importantly, premature/low birth-weight
infants continue to have a higher risk of health problems
throughout their lives. The ability to treat or prevent
oral disease in expectant mothers to reduce this important
health problem could have dramatic benefits to improving
the health of all Kentuckians,” Ebersole said.