Efforts to connect oral health to improved overall systemic health are ramping up around the world—even Down Under, with plans to establish an approximately $15.5 million (US) research center at the University of Sydney, led by the newly appointed chair of lifespan oral health, Professor Jöerg Eberhard.
“The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Dentistry has a strong research record revealing how chronic infections and degeneration of the gums and teeth raise the risk of disease processes throughout the body,” said Eberhard, who is based at the university’s Westmead campus.
According to the university, a third of adults in Australia have untreated dental decay and a quarter have moderate to severe gum disease, both of which raise the risk of chronic health conditions including heart attacks, strokes, vascular disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and poor outcomes in pregnancy.
For example, cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in Australia, with one death every 12 minutes, the university reports. It also accounts for 12% of all healthcare spending. Furthermore, people with fewer than 10 of their own teeth are 7 times more likely to die of coronary disease than someone with 25 teeth or more.
Plans for the research center began with a $2.8 million donation from the Abrahams family through its Rosebrook Foundation in 2015. The center will investigate all aspects of preventable dental disease and its links to whole-body health. Its research will be incorporated into the university’s dentistry curricula, clinical treatment guidelines, and continuing education programs.
“The center will build on the work of the new chair and develop a whole-of-health disease prevention strategy that defines benefits to individuals, the community, and government through improved health, reduced costs, and evidence-based health policy development,” said professor Chris Peck, dean of the faculty of dentistry.
The facility will be home to a multichair clinical facility, a digital laboratory, a clinical research office, and seminar rooms. The university also is planning on state-of-the-art equipment for teaching and patient care, with research integrated into clinical treatment. And, its founders aim to attract internationally distinguished researchers and teachers.
As chair of the center, Eberhard will work with adult, children’s, and private hospitals, research institutes, and health facilities across New South Wales in Australia and beyond. He also will link with dental researchers globally, investigating oral-systemic interactions. The center’s findings will be disseminated through outreach, publication, and conference presentations.
“The mission goes beyond traditional dentistry and medicine by extending to education, nutrition, agriculture, economics, public health policy, the built environment, and communication technologies,” said Eberhard.
“I’m confident that our research, education, and policy work will help to improve oral health but also the systemic health of the population,” Eberhard said, “and I’m very happy to joining the University of Sydney in this endeavor.”