WVU Dental Health and Pregnancy Study

Who We Are

COHRA2 2016 Conference

Our History

In 2002, a collaborative research center was formed between West Virginia University, Michigan University, and the University of Pittsburgh called the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia (COHRA).

These universities came together because of a deep desire by all of our researchers to explain and prevent the profound oral health disparities that the people of Appalachia suffer from. In order to address this issue, our colleagues began data collection a study called, “Genetic Factors Contributing to Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia.” This study was headed by Principal Investigators Dr. Mary L. Marazita of the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Richard J. Crout of West Virginia University.

The efforts of these universities have resulted in a data bank with thousands of variables from visits with over 700 Appalachian families. The goal of the Center was to identify factors that lead to oral health disparities in children and families in Appalachia. West Virginia, the only state that exists entirely within the boundaries of the Appalachian region, consistently exhibits some of the worst oral health in the nation.The factors that were researched in this study include genes, microbes, behavior, family interactions, and community characteristics.

Findings from COHRA 1 Project "Genetic Factors Contributing to Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia"

  • cavities in the baby teeth were highly heritable

  • more than 25% of people in this region would rather have a tooth pulled than have treatment done that might preserve the tooth

  • over 80% of adults in the study had gum disease more indicative of the severe form called periodontitis, rather than simple gingivitis

  • and when it came to cavities, children ages 2 -5 in the study experienced 144% more decay than the national average for this age group

A third of our children have untreated dental decay by the age of 8, and one-third of adults under age 35 have lost at least six permanent teeth. In addition, 44% of our citizens over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth. The average nationwide is 20%. Publications resulting from this data bank can be found in our bibliography.


Findings from this first COHRA study led to our second, COHRA research study titled, “Factors Contributing to Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia." We have named this initiative the "Dental Health and Pregnancy Study".

There were 557 women in West Virginia who volunteered during their pregnancy to participate in this COHRA project, and we continue to happily work with them, and to follow their health and that of their children. In 2017, there were 372 in-person visits with research participants in West Virginia, and 609 telephone interviews. We will continue working with the women and children already in the study, and hope they remain our partners into the future!

Our Current Research

Given the the success of our work over the past 15+ years, additional funding had been awarded to COHRA to include a new part of the project.

This new initiative in 2018 is known as "COHRA Smile," which involves pregnant women in West Virginia who identify as African American. Over the next two years or so, we will be actively recruiting African American women who are in their first or second trimesters of pregnancy who would like to volunteer for a paid research project. If you or anyone you know would like to participate, please contact us. Learn more about your dental health and earn over $500 for completing the full study. Your help can be the first steps to improving oral health for your child and other children for generations to come.

Current research efforts are funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and directed by three dedicated Principal Investigators: Dr. Mary L. Marazita from the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Daniel W. McNeil from West Virginia University, and Dr. Betsy Foxman from the University of Michigan.

If we are to be successful, we need your help.