Scientists from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand Join Forces


Northern Ontario School of MedicineTHUNDER BAY – An Associate Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) is partnering in a unique new research approach specifically designed for First Nations pregnant women. The study will commence this spring in several communities across Ontario and Manitoba with the goal of reducing the marked early childhood caries (tooth decay) disparities that exist between First Nations and non-First Nations children in Canada.

The Canadian arm of this project is funded at almost $1.2 million dollars by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). It will involve both clinical components, including treatment and fluoride applications, as well as behavioural modification including anticipatory guidance and motivational interviewing. Results will be compared with partner initiatives lead by Australian and New Zealand teams.

The project is highly participatory and involves close collaboration between Aboriginal communities and university-based researchers. Dr. Pam Williamson, Executive Director of the Noojmowin Teg Health Centre and a member of the First Nations community herself, explains. “In 2004, Noojmowin Teg Health Centre completed research on the oral health of children within our catchment area on Manitoulin Island. We found that dental caries among First Nations children was very high. This was one reason for accepting the invitation to partner in this project. We expect that the participation of women and their children

in our area will help break the cycle of childhood dental decay and maybe even have a positive impact on the entire family.”

Dr. Marion Maar, an Associate Professor at NOSM and co-investigator on this international project, has collaborated with First Nations in Northern Ontario on health research for over a dozen years, including the Noojmowin Teg dental project on Manitoulin. “Dental disease can cause a lot of suffering for children, it impacts on children’s ability to eat, play, and sleep. But pain is only one of the issues.

It can also be associated with ear infections, obesity and low self-esteem. Treatment in children often requires expensive treatment under a general anesthetic. It is very exciting to expand my involvement in Aboriginal child health to include Northern Ontario First Nations along with Indigenous people worldwide to address an issue that impacts on the well-being of so many children,” said Maar.

Principal investigator, Dr. Herenia Lawrence, from the University of Toronto, says, “We hope that by working in partnership with Aboriginal communities here in Canada we can create an intervention that will reduce the dental treatment needs of young children and motivate mothers to subscribe to better preventative oral health practices.

Our long-term goal is to create a culturally appropriate intervention that reduces dental disease burden and health inequalities among pre-school Indigenous children in the participating countries and that can be readily applied to other populations with high levels of early childhood caries.”

Four other Canadian Universities will join NOSM for this investigation including the University of Toronto, the University of Manitoba, the University College of the North, and the University of Waterloo. The five-year study is called Reducing Disease Burden and Health Inequalities Arising From Chronic Dental Disease Among Indigenous Children: An Early Childhood Caries Intervention.

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is committed to the education of high quality physicians and health professionals, and to international recognition as a leader in distributed, learning-centred, community-engaged education and research.

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