Media Releases

“Baby Teeth Talk” study : tri-national study promotes early intervention strategies to improve Indigenous oral health

March 20, 2015

TORONTO, ON (March 20, 2015) — A first of its kind, a study fund­ed by the Cana­di­an Insti­tutes of Health Research, involv­ing indige­nous pop­u­la­tions in Cana­da, Aus­tralia and New Zealand is attempt­ing to tack­le a grow­ing prob­lem in Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions: ear­ly child­hood caries.

Caus­ing pain and often requir­ing treat­ment under gen­er­al anaes­thet­ic, ear­ly child­hood caries also pre­dis­pose chil­dren to ear infec­tions as well as adult caries. Access­ing care, mean­while, often involves fly­ing from remote com­mu­ni­ties to hos­pi­tals in more pop­u­lat­ed areas – plac­ing a tremen­dous strain on resources as well as on fam­i­lies.

U of T’s Dr. Here­nia Lawrence is lead inves­ti­ga­tor in the mas­sive pan-nation com­mu­ni­ty study that recruit­ed 544 preg­nant Cana­di­an First Nations and Métis women, 446 Aus­tralian Abo­rig­i­nals and 222 New Zealand Māori.

The study focus­es on sev­er­al inter­ven­tion strate­gies: it pro­vid­ed den­tal care for the preg­nant moth­ers; applied a twice-year­ly flu­o­ride var­nish to one group of children’s teeth from ages 6 months to 2 years (often in remote Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties water is not flu­o­ri­dat­ed); and in the sec­ond group, var­nish at 2 years; and engages moth­ers in respect­ful, cul­tur­al­ly-rel­e­vant dis­cus­sions to help edu­cate and guide the way to bet­ter oral health. The study will fol­low the chil­dren until 3 years of age.




The study pro­vid­ed sev­er­al inter­ven­tion strate­gies: work­ing with den­tal pro­fes­sion­als, the researchers pro­vid­ed den­tal care to the preg­nant recruits, as well as moti­va­tion­al inter­view­ing (a cul­tur­al­ly-sen­si­tive and respect­ful form of guid­ance) and edu­ca­tion – which are ongo­ing through­out the study, and often pro­vid­ed by Abo­rig­i­nal field work­ers.

The study then pro­vides the chil­dren born of these women twice-year­ly flu­o­ride treat­ments and tracks their progress for three years, with the hopes of cre­at­ing sus­tain­able, cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant pre­ven­tion strate­gies.

Cur­rent­ly, the study is col­lect­ing data as the chil­dren turn two and three. The team of researchers hope to con­clude the study in late 2015 — ear­ly 2016.

Fea­tured in CIHR’s Annu­al Report (2013–14), the study involves Health Cana­da, Cana­di­an Insti­tutes for Health Research (CIHR), the Aus­tralian Research Cen­tre for Pop­u­la­tion Oral Health, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ade­laide, and in Aotearoa, New Zealand, the Rauku­ra Hauo­ra O Tainui, Waika­to-Tainui Col­lege for Research and Devel­op­ment, as well as the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ota­go. Crit­i­cal part­ner­ships were also formed with numer­ous Indige­nous gov­ern­ments in the three study nations.

In mid-March of this year, Dr. Lawrence pre­sent­ed a seg­ment of the study at the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion for Den­tal Research meet­ing in Boston, MA. Focus­ing on some of the social deter­mi­nants of health, the researchers con­clud­ed that lev­els of edu­ca­tion, Abo­rig­i­nal iden­ti­ty and racism all played a deter­mi­nant part in the health of the Abo­rig­i­nal women inter­viewed.


Com­bin­ing the rigours of bio­log­i­cal and clin­i­cal research with a supe­ri­or edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence across a full range of under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate pro­grams – with and with­out advanced spe­cial­ty train­ing – the Fac­ul­ty of Den­tistry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to has earned an inter­na­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion as the pre­mier den­tal research and train­ing facil­i­ty in Cana­da. From the cut­ting-edge sci­ence of bio­ma­te­ri­als and micro­bi­ol­o­gy, to next-gen­er­a­tion nanopar­ti­cle and stem cell ther­a­pies, to ground-break­ing pop­u­la­tion and access-to-care stud­ies, the mis­sion of the Fac­ul­ty of Den­tistry is to strive for integri­ty and excel­lence in all aspects of research, train­ing and health care.

More infor­ma­tion can be found at:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Erin Vol­lick
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer
Fac­ul­ty of Den­tistry
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
T: (416) 979‑4900 Ext. 4381
C: (416) 409‑4633