MORGANTOWN -- You don't stomp out tooth decay with just a dentist's drill.Armed with a $200,000 Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation grant, West Virginia University is launching a series of programs designed to improve oral health across the state.New research has shown a link between poor oral health and heart disease. Gum disease and tooth decay in pregnant women also might contribute to premature births.The university wants to spread the word about the importance of good oral health beyond the dentist's office."We want to make sure this new information and evidence about oral health is understood by nurses, doctors, pediatricians, physical therapists and other health care providers," said Hilda Heady, associate vice president for rural health at WVU. "It's not just dentists who need to know the importance of oral health."As part of the grant, the university has started to incorporate oral-health education throughout the health sciences curriculum.There also are plans to increase the number of pediatric dentists in rural areas by supporting a two-year pediatric dentistry specialization at WVU's dental school. A post-graduate pediatric dental residency program will be established by 2009. A pediatric dentist joined the university faculty last year.WVU has added oral-health screenings to an existing health-education program called Coronary Artery Resistance Detection in Appalachian Communities, or CARDIAC. More than 1,700 kindergarten students will have their teeth examined.The university wants to ensure that children get to a dentist early in life - usually by their first birthday. Many young kids aren't seen by a dentist until they have a toothache."If we detect these issues early," Heady said, "we will be able to prevent a lot of other diseases seen the Appalachian region."To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.