The New York State Department of Health & Mental Hygiene recently included oral health screenings for the first time in its recommended healthcare guidelines for pregnant women. In Santiago, Chile, health officials went one step further, making periodontal screenings mandatory for expectant mothers.
The new guidelines were prompted by research conducted by Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion and Director of the MS and Certificate Programs in Clinical Research, and his colleagues in other countries, which established a connection between a mother’s untreated periodontal disease and a heightened risk of preterm, low birth weight delivery.
When Dr. Dasanayake and colleagues in his native Sri Lanka conducted a follow-up study on pregnant women free of the tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use reported in some earlier research subjects, they found no significant association between periodontal disease and preterm low birth weight, a possible indication that previously reported associations may have been linked to consumption of these substances. (Another study, published in November in The New England Journal of Medicine, found no significant difference in preterm birth weight rates between mothers with treated and untreated periodontitis.)
Dr. Dasanayake has also teamed up with investigators in Asia to study cultural and behavioral factors influencing oral health, such as the connection between tobacco chewing, which is common in South Asia, and oral cancer rates in the region, and an increase in caries among Sri Lankan aborigines who adopt Western diets high in sugar-saturated foods.
“Collaborating with overseas colleagues will continue to be one of my priorities because of the positive effect we can have on public health policy, both in the United States and abroad. Some of the countries where I conduct research, though very poor, have better indicators of health (such as infant mortality rates) than the United States has. We can learn a great deal from these countries in our efforts to reduce racial, economic, and other health disparities.”