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Microbial Pathogenesis

My primary research interest is early childhood caries (ECC). According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Surgeon General’s Report in 2000, dental caries was the most widespread chronic disease as well as the most common unmet healthcare need of childhood. The etiology of the disease is complex and includes such factors as inadequate health education of parents, socioeconomic status and limited access to dental services. Other contributing factors which also represent the major focus of my laboratory’s research are lack of contact of ECC patients with dental care providers at critical ages, i.e., 6 to 36 months, and identification of disease risk indicators before dental caries occur.  Dentists usually begin dental screenings of young children at Head Start programs where children are 3 to 4 years of age. This often is too late for adequate preventive interventions.  

Recently my lab team conducted a 2-year ECC prevention project at a Community Pediatric Health Center in inner city Baltimore, whereby dental and pediatric health care providers teamed up to provide early access to children (6 to 25 months of age), caries risk assessments, preventive interventions, parent education and periodic recalls (Minah et al., 2008, see publications). We achieved a 10-fold decrease in ECC compared to 25 month old children at the same clinic who did not have previous dental contact and found that the child’s oral microflora was a strong indicator of future dental caries. Since the young children had to return for 3 or 6 months pediatric visits, our recall return rate was close to 90 percent.

The National Institute of Health is currently sponsoring a multi-institution ECC prevention program throughout the United States based on the pediatric-dental collaboration model. Our institution was selected to participate in this project.

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Selected publications