Dental School Awarded Multi-Million Dollar Grant

Continuing UB's tradition of research-oriented development, the School of Dental Medicine announced Oct. 3 that it has been awarded a three-year, $7.3 million grant to study the relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular health by the National Institute of Dental and Cranio-facial Research.

The grant will enable UB researchers to recruit and study 900 people with periodontal disease who have had either a former heart attack or are believed to be at risk for a future heart attack.

It is headed by Dr. Robert J. Genco, chair of the department of oral biology, who UB Provost Elizabeth Capaldi called a "pioneer in research on the links between periodontal infection and cardiovascular disease."

"There is growing evidence of a relationship between infection and atherosclerosis (cardiovascular disruption), as well as a specific link between periodontal infection and heart disease," Genco stated in a press release. "Previous studies have established possible effective treatments of periodontal disease."

"Our study is designed to select the periodontal treatment with the best chance of reducing the risk for heart disease."

Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, is an infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. The disease typically causes tooth loss in adults, but because it is painless, many people do not realize they are affected. Provost Capaldi noted that 75 percent of Americans are in some way afflicted by periodontal infections.

"This grant will fund a pilot study which will set the stage for a definitive, large-scale clinical relationship on the trial between periodontal infection . and cardiovascular disease," stated Capaldi in an e-mail. "It will enable Dr. Genco to assemble an outstanding, multi-disciplinary team of researchers from UB, the lead institution in this study."

UB researchers have focused specifically on whether periodontal disease has any effect on or contribution to heart disease. Previous studies have revealed that the risk of heart disease in people who have periodontal disease increases anywhere from one to four times.

"If we find through this pilot study that keeping gum disease in check appears to lessen the chances of a second cardiovascular incident, we will be justified in proposing a large-scale clinical trial that should provide definitive answers on the relationship between these two chronic conditions," stated Genco.

According to Capaldi, competition for this grant is "very competitive," and UB was only able to obtain the grant only after an "extensive review" conducted by the National Institute for Health Peer Review Study Section.

"If the study is positive, it will give us one more weapon in the battle against heart disease," stated Genco. "However, we are a long way from having the data necessary to suggest that treatment of gum disease or any infection will reduce heart disease."

According to Capaldi, the grant will "provide an opportunity to bring the basic research that UB has been doing on periodontal infection and its potential effect on the risk of heart disease and stroke into the 'real world' of the clinic."

Also involved in the project are UB researchers Maurizio Trevisan, interim dean of the School of Health Related Professions; Susan Graham, associate professor of medicine; Sara Grossi, clinical assistant professor of oral biology; Joseph J. Zambon, professor of periodontics and endodontics; and Paola Muti, associate professor of social and preventive medicine.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Boston University, Kaiser Permanente/Oregon Health Science University and the University of Maryland will also participate in the study.

More information can be found at the School of Dental Medicine Web site at