NYU Dentistry Research Explores Oral Health of Vulnerable Women During Pregnancy

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research is funding research at NYU Dentistry to better understand the oral health of vulnerable pregnant women and the barriers they face to receiving dental care. The research—supported by a $2.1 million, four-year grant—is led by Stefanie Russell, DDS, MPH, PhD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion and the project’s principal investigator, along with NYU Dentistry co-investigators Shulamite Huang, PhD, and Richard Heyman, PhD.

Low-income women of color are at risk for poor oral health during pregnancy and less likely to see a dentist while pregnant than white and higher-income women. However, pregnancy is often the only time when women can access dental care through Medicaid, as states offer Medicaid to women at a higher income during pregnancy to ensure that they do not go without prenatal care.

National evidence-based guidelines advocate visiting a dentist during pregnancy to improve oral health. However, some prenatal oral health programs designed to increase dental utilization among vulnerable pregnant women have had disappointing results despite addressing common barriers to care.

“Our research aims to fill a gap in understanding what factors predict or constrain access to dental care during pregnancy, which can inform the design of future interventions,” said Russell. “Importantly, we need to collect longitudinal data to see how the factors play out throughout pregnancy.”

Russell’s research leverages her clinical Prenatal Oral Health Program, an ongoing interprofessional collaboration between NYU College of Dentistry and the Bellevue Hospital Obstetrics and Gynecology Service. For this study, the researchers are collecting survey data on socio-behavioral and psychosocial factors common in these vulnerable women during the first trimester of pregnancy. They are also conducting clinical oral examinations to evaluate tooth loss, dental caries, gingivitis, and periodontitis, and will refer all women for necessary dental care. Then, the researchers will re-survey and re-examine participants during their third trimester, and use Medicaid claims to evaluate their dental care utilization. Modeling will be used to identify predictors of dental care utilization and oral health during pregnancy.

“This study is the first step in addressing our long-term goal to improve the oral health of vulnerable women by intervening during pregnancy,” said Russell.

The four-year grant (1R01DE029963-01A1) started in 2021 and will continue through 2025.