The Pearl Dental Research Network

Sept. 1, 2012
One of the hallmarks of a profession is maintaining a body of research. Currently, dental hygiene research is limited.


One of the hallmarks of a profession is maintaining a body of research. Currently, dental hygiene research is limited. Dental hygienists in both academia and private practice are building that knowledge through evidence-based practice.

Ashley Grill, RDH, BSDH, MPH, has developed a program entitled “Findings of the PEARL Network” that helps hygienists understand how they and their practices can build that knowledge. The program describes what the PEARL Network is (Practitioners Engaged in Applied Research and Learning), how to get involved, the credentialing and training process, and the key elements necessary to conduct research in everyday clinical practice.

For hygienists not familiar with the research world, Ashley delves into the standards of conducting research in accordance with the International Standards from the International Conference on Harmonization (IHC) 1996, Institutional Review Boards, and the standards for attaining human subject certification. She discusses the key findings from the clinical portfolio of the 16 funded studies of the PEARL Network, and how these findings impact the way we practice and the future of dentistry.

Ashley reviews the challenges of translating research into actual practice, and discusses the behavior change theory to engage participants in a model of health belief they can relate to. Using an educational model of transformational learning theory, Ashley assists hygienists in exploring why they practice the way they do. Hygienists completing this program will come away with the latest knowledge from the practice-based research network, and they will reflect on how this can change the way they practice.

PEARL Network is an NIDCR/NIH-sponsored network of private practice dental professionals who conduct clinical studies to improve the treatment, delivery, and practice of dental care. PEARL Network studies come primarily from members, who try to find the answers to questions that interest dental professionals. There are over 200 practitioner-investigators in 32 states serving diverse patient populations.

PEARL investigators receive continuing education credits from New York University College of Dentistry. The information from a study is overseen by the PEARL executive committee (members of the PEARL Network) and is managed by NYU research faculty. The operations are also supported by a data-coordinating center — the EMMES Corporation in Rockville, Md. Participant stakeholders include the largest commercial benefit plan in the United States, MetLife Dental, along with Delta Dental and several other investigators and consultants.

The PEARL Network was launched in 2005 when NYU received a $26.7 million award from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH) to establish one of three regional practice-based research networks with a mandate to expand the research base in dentistry. Completed studies include:

  • Deep caries treatment survey
  • Postoperative hypersensitivity in resin-based composite restorations
  • Osteonecrosis of the jaw
  • Endodontic treatment outcomes
  • Analgesic use and effectiveness
  • Treatment of noncarious cervical lesions
  • Periodontal disease — diagnosis, treatment, and referral
  • Survey to assess the impact of dental practice-based research networks on patient care (annual survey)
  • TMJD pain
  • Addictive behavior intervention

Anyone interested in becoming involved in the PEARL Network must complete study-specific training and spend about two hours per week on the study. Oversight and assistance are provided by PEARL Clinical Research Associates. A practice can participate in as many or as few studies as they choose. To date, no practice has exceeded three studies at one time. Specific study-related tutorials are available and CE credits are given for participating in the tutorials.

If practice members have a specific idea for a study, they are encouraged to submit an online form that describes the problem, what they hope to learn from the study, and how the study would be performed in the practice. The PEARL Executive Management Team evaluates all ideas submitted for studies.

Ashley became involved with the PEARL Network after she relocated from New Hampshire to New York. She had been employed by Northeast Delta Dental, and during relocation she Googled her ideal job as a research hygienist in NYC. Her search led to the ADHA Career Center, where she discovered that the PEARL Network needed a coordinator in protocol development at New York University College of Dentistry.

She was excited to be able to stay connected to clinical research as it applies to everyday practice, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with other hygienists. As a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a BS in dental hygiene, Ashley obtained her Master of Public Health degree from the University of New Hampshire-Manchester. As a life-long ADHA member, she understands that patients need oral health advocates, and providing hygienists with this program offers them a great resource.

Ashley believes there is much untapped potential among practicing hygienists, dentists, and assistants. She enjoys working and educating professionals who are open-minded and optimistic, who have an interest in improving care through research. Are you ready for the challenge?

For more information on Ashley and the PEARL Network, contact [email protected]. RDH

Thought for the Month: All limitations are self-imposed. Oliver Wendall Holmes

The course for September is “Advanced Digital Implant Dentistry.” RDH readers will receive 50% off the course using ANSEPT12 code.

The dental implant industry has seen significant advances in the past three decades. However, there are still millions of people across the globe with missing teeth who have not been able to enjoy the benefits of replacing their teeth with dental implants. There are many factors that prevent patients from choosing implants, such as fear, cost, and lack of knowledge. However, even in developed countries there are still many dentists who do not offer implants because of the perceived complexity and cost associated with offering dental implants. New digital technologies are streamlining the dental implant workflow and simplifying delivery for the dental implant team. Through advanced digital engineering, dentists are now able to offer precise guided planning, digital impressions, CAD/CAM models, and restorations. These techniques are providing the revolutionary opportunity for the dental team to collaborate and plan dental implant cases virtually with more predictable cost and more predictable outcomes..

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at [email protected].

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