Early Determinants of Oral Disease
Almost all of us have had at least one cavity, and many of us have had bleeding gums or periodontal disease. These common oral diseases represent a major global health problem and an enormous financial burden for public health. Not only do they cause pain, but they affect important aspects of life, such as eating. Less common oral diseases—like oral cancer—are life threatening, while gum disease has been linked to obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease. For most of the 20th century, scientists linked chronic oral diseases with current circumstances such as socioeconomic status and health behaviours. But could past circumstances over people’s life course make them more vulnerable to developing specific diseases? Dr. Belinda Nicolau, Canada Research Chair in Life Course Oral Epidemiology, has pioneered the use of the life, course framework in the field of oral health. Her work suggests that not only current circumstances, but also social and psychological environments at the beginning of life have an impact on chronic oral diseases. Nicolau is studying how socioeconomic environments, infections, and behavioural and genetic factors affect the development of cancer in the mouth, throat and larynx. She is also following the health of children in Quebec until they reach adulthood to improve understanding of how cavities and gum diseases are linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Nicolau’s research will help improve understanding of the aetiology of oral disease and its links with other major diseases. This should lead to new policies to deal with oral cancer and to identify children at risk of common chronic oral diseases, diabetes and heart disease early, to decrease these debilitating illnesses in adult life.