Global Health Nexus, Summer 2002

New "Ask Your Dentist" Campaign Will Target the Link Between Periodontal Disease and Preterm Low Birth-Weight Babies

A growing body of evidence now indicates that preterm low birth-weight (PLBW) infants are more likely to die before their first birthday than normal birth-weight babies and that survivors may suffer from a number of health problems. Moreover, while the rate of PLBW is significantly higher among African Americans than among whites, over the past 15 years there has been a gradual increase in PLBW among whites as well. Accordingly, the need to understand what the risk factors are for preterm deliveries and low birth weight, and how they can be modified, has become a significant public health issue.

One such risk factor is believed to be pregnant women’s poor periodontal health. Indeed, periodontal disease may be responsible for up to 18 percent of preterm deliveries, making it a factor that appears to be as strong as smoking or alcohol abuse.To focus public attention on periodontal disease as a risk factor affecting birth timing and weight, NYU Dentistry will devote its next “Ask Your Dentist” campaign to this problem. Previous “Ask Your Dentist” campaigns have focused on raising public awareness of the importance of oral cancer screenings and on eradicating childhood caries.

Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, associate professor of epidemiology and health promotion, and director of the Clinical Research Training Program, has done extensive research on the consequences of poor periodontal health in the pregnant woman. According to Dr. Dasanayake, “The importance of our findings lies in the fact that poor periodontal health is easily amenable to prevention.” The new “Ask Your Dentist” campaign will bring this message to the general public through a series of advertisements and news stories. Watch for details in a future issue of Global Health Nexus.