National network of dental researchers seeks independent input too

Nov. 1, 2012
I’ve been a dental hygienist for 32 years, and I’ve been privileged to serve as a researcher and educator ...

Practitioners Access Network To Participate In Research


I’ve been a dental hygienist for 32 years, and I’ve been privileged to serve as a researcher and educator, as well as a provider of direct patient care in the dental environment. I realize, however, that not every dental hygienist has had the opportunities that I’ve been given to expand my role as an RDH. Now, across the nation, practice-based dental hygienists can participate in dental research with funding by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

NIDCR funded three networks from 2005 to 2012 to start dental practice-based research. The three networks collaborated in joint studies. The initial seven-year Regional Dental Practice-Based Research Network enrolled 1,719 practitioners in 43 states. Practitioners, who included dentists and dental hygienists, conducted 51 research studies in collaboration with the Dental PBRN academic faculties and staff. Research resulted in 87 journal articles on topics ranging from preventive and restorative dentistry to pain management and smoking cessation.

With the advent of the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network (National Dental PBRN) in 2012, all states and practitioners can now participate. The National Dental PBRN will support practitioner-based research at the national level from 2012 to 2019. Dental hygienists who participated in this network in the past seven years, as well as those who wish to participate in the next seven years, can contribute to a national network of practitioners that take part in the future of dentistry. Most importantly, dental hygienists can submit ideas for research topics vital to patient care. The National Dental PBRN is a consortium of participating dental practices and dental organizations committed to advancing and improving dental knowledge. This national network is an effort to help dental professionals directly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of dental care.

Essentially, it is research done in the “real world” of daily clinical practice. Unfortunately, much of the latest dental research has not had immediate applicability to daily dental practice. In fact, some have said that current dental research is “scientifically valid and statistically significant, but clinically useless.” We would like to change that.

The National Dental PBRN’s major source of funding is the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is led by Gregg H. Gilbert, DDS, MBA, FAAHD, FICD, Professor and Chair, Department of Clinical and Community Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry.

The goals are to conduct national oral health studies on topics of importance to practitioners and their patients, provide evidence to improve routine dental care, and facilitate movement of the latest evidence into routine clinical practice. Practitioners are engaged at every step of the research process, provide data collection and data analysis, and participate in local, regional, and national presentations, as well as help prepare manuscripts for publication.

Dental hygienists may participate in multiple roles of the National Dental PBRN. They can complete the questionnaire at to participate in the National Dental PBRN. They will then be able to access all the information the Network has collected in the past seven years (DPBRN), and any information during the next seven years.

If a dental hygienist practices with a dentist who also wants to participate in the National Dental PBRN (and has completed the questionnaire and wants to participate fully), then full participation by both the RDH and dentist will include access to information, participation in clinical trials and publications, and attending meetings.

Here’s what Joanne Johnson, RDH, says about the PEARL Network and the National Dental PBRN — “As a registered dental hygienist for the past 37 years, I have often wondered if there were more efficient and effective ways to achieve better outcomes of care for the patients that I serve.

“When asked what my participation in a research network has meant to me, I have to say that becoming involved in research has helped me grow professionally. Research makes me feel that my efforts have been a part of protocol changes, the creation of less invasive procedures, and better choices for the patients I serve.

“How does a profession get better at what it does? It has been my experience that by applying scientific evidence-based practices, we are better able to assist people that we love, whether their affliction is cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, or dental disease. The thought of making a difference in the lives of my patients motivates me to help create better outcomes for all patients, and contributing to the practice analyses that lead us to more efficient and effective protocols and standards of operation.” RDH

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” ROBERT F. KENNEDY

For further information, email [email protected]. Please join us in providing dental research to improve dental care and use in your practices at

Examples of studies during the first seven years of the NIDCR-funded networks from 2005-2012 at the start of dental practice-based research.


What is the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network?

The national network is a consortium of practices and clinics devoted principally to the oral health care of patients, but whose members investigate research questions that will improve the quality of dental care.

What are the goals of the nation’s network?

The goals are to conduct national oral health studies on topics of importance to practitioners and their patients, to provide evidence to improve routine dental care, and to facilitate movement of the latest evidence into routine clinical practice.

How is the nation’s network funded?

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is funded from 2012 to 2019 by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in collaboration with six other institutions in the United States (listed on the site). For more information, visit the NIDCR website at

How do I join?

You can enroll online by going to and following directions to complete the enrollment questionnaire. You need to have a functioning email address to enroll.

How much time will I have to commit when I participate in a study?

The amount of time will vary depending on the project. Studies range from questionnaires to studies in the office. The goal is to implement projects that will easily integrate into your everyday practice routine.

What are the benefits of joining the nation’s network?

• Exchange ideas with fellow practitioners

• Participate in research projects that benefit your practice with participation at one of three levels: 1. informational: receive newsletters and correspondence only; 2. limited: also participate in questionnaires; or 3. full: also participate in in-office clinical studies.

• Distinguish your practice from other practices, acting as a practice promoter or practice builder

• Increase your practice’s visibility and stature among dental patients

• Enhance communication with patients by showing that you and your office care about the scientific basis of daily clinical practice (you stay current)

• Serve as a team builder for staff, and engage the entire staff in the excitement of discovery and quality improvement

• Studies can improve the quality of dental care by contributing to the scientific basis for the dental procedures that are their focus

• Receive financial remuneration for the time spent doing research

• Potential to present at local, state, and national dental meetings and research conferences

• Receive continuing education credit for attendance at National Dental PBRN annual meetings and participating in training and certification activities for specific National Dental PBRN studies

MARY THERESE KEATING-BILTUCCI, RDH, MA, is working on her EdD, and is with the University of Rochester Eastman Institute for Oral Health as a Health Project Coordinator in clinical research, as well as an adjunct instructor in the dental hygiene department at Monroe Community College. She is also a regional coordinator for the Northeast region of the U.S. with the National Dental PBRN. Contact her at (585) 273-3107 or [email protected].

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