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UK College of Dentistry Receives Endowment
to Improve Kentucky's Oral Health

By Amanda White

University of Kentucky Lee T. Todd Jr. accepts an endowment from Delta Dental President and CEO Cliff Maesaka.

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"Delta Dental is Kentucky's largest dental benefits provider making an effort to address a Kentucky problem. By aiding this collaboration between Kentucky's two premier research institutions, Delta Dental's funding should position oral health research in Kentucky to more effectively compete for national funding initiatives in both research and training, which can only be a benefit for the academic institutions, the economy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the citizens of the state."

-- Jeffrey Ebersole, Ph.D., director,
UK Center for Oral Health Research

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Oct. 16, 2002 (Lexington, Ky.) -- Delta Dental Plan of Kentucky has awarded the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry and the University of Louisville School of Dentistry a $1.5 million endowment that will be used to enhance research efforts and improve oral health for Kentuckians.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky Research Challenge Trust Fund is matching the endowment for both universities, boosting Delta Dental's investment to a total of $3 million. The University of Kentucky will use its half for the Delta Dental Plan of Kentucky Clinical Research Center.

"Delta Dental is committed to improving oral health care and finding prevention methods for health related illnesses as evidenced by this endowment," said Cliff Maesaka, president and C.E.O. of Delta Dental.

The UK College of Dentistry, with the UK Chandler Medical Center, established the Center for Oral Health Research (COHR) to enhance interdisciplinary research and nurture
cross-fertilization of research expertise. The Delta Dental Center will be the clinical arm of the COHR, researching ways to define and impact oral health disparities in rural Kentucky.

"Delta Dental is Kentucky's largest dental benefits provider making an effort to address a Kentucky problem," said Jeffrey Ebersole, Ph.D., director of the UK Center for Oral Health Research. "By aiding this collaboration between Kentucky's two premier research institutions, Delta Dental's funding should position oral health research in Kentucky to more effectively compete for national funding initiatives in both research and training, which can only be a benefit for the academic institutions, the economy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the citizens of the state."

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 babies.

"In the last five years it has become apparent that periodontal disease and certain chronic systematic conditions are intertwined," said Denis Kinane, Ph.D., Delta Dental Endowed Professor and associate dean of research and enterprise at the U of L School of Dentistry. "We are investigating the biological mechanisms for these interrelationships so as to develop better therapy and prevention of these oral and systemic conditions."

"The investment that Delta Dental has made to both dental schools will significantly enhance the oral health for the people of Kentucky," said John N. Williams, D.M.D., M.B.A., dean, University of Louisville School of Dentistry. "Two outstanding scientists, one from each institution, will provide the leadership for our collective research efforts. Through the discovery of new knowledge, Kentuckians can enjoy a higher quality of life."
Currently underway at UK's Delta Dental Center is a multi-institutional National Institutes of Health study that examines and treats pregnant women's oral health.

Two hundred and four Kentucky women with periodontal disease, and 816 women nationwide, will be divided into two groups. Half of the women will receive dental care intervention during their pregnancy. Researchers will see if those treated have babies closer to full-term and at a normal weight, as opposed to those treated after delivery.

The University of Minnesota is the principal site of the study. The Delta Dental Center at UK is a clinical site and the central laboratory for immunological analyses, where samples will be sent from all four sites, including Columbia University and the University of Mississippi. John Novak, B.D.S., Ph.D., is co-investigator of the study, as well as Arthur T. Evans, M.D., professor and director of maternal-fetal medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, UK College of Medicine.

"Such studies linking oral disease to overall health offer the opportunity to lower the extensive rate of oral disease at all ages in the Kentucky population," said Leon A. Assael, D.M.D., dean of the UK College of Dentistry. "With UK and U of L in collaboration, this can be accomplished more effectively."

"If we had an unlimited amount of money for dental care, we probably wouldn't need to do research," Ebersole said. "But, we can't eliminate oral disease in Kentucky by treating one mouth at a time, so we're doing it through research and prevention. We all need to start looking at periodontal disease and its dental effects as a public health program."


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