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National Dental Research Network Offers More Opportunities for Clinicians to Conduct Studies

Additional funds have been greenlighted to support dental practice-based investigative partnerships in specialty fields.

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The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) recently announced plans to continue funding two grants for its National Dental Practice-Based Research Network (NDPBRN). This third cycle of funding for the nationally coordinated program will expand the scope of research to include specialty dental practices and practices treating unique patient populations.

Practitioners of dental specialties will be recruited to participate in studies with respect to their branches of dentistry. The program focusing on special patients will involve clinicians who treat patients with specific conditions that impact oral health.

The network—created in 2005—supports investigative partnerships between academic clinical researchers and practicing clinicians. The goal is to address issues that arise in everyday dental practice, with an eye toward advancing patient care. Designed to expand dentistry’s evidence base, studies are conducted in dental offices with consenting patient subjects.


A critical part of the network, the National Administrative and Resource Center, located at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, handles practitioner recruitment and engagement, and offers research-conducted training and management. The National Coordinating Center, located at the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon, coordinates, collects, manages, and stores data. The two centers coordinate research that is overseen by six regional “nodes,” or branches.

The program encourages collaboration among its various branches, through sharing of information. Membership comprises 7,000 dentists, dental hygienists, related staff, dental students, and oral health researchers. Roughly 60,000 patients have participated in 58 clinical studies to date.


Completed studies have made a difference by raising awareness and improving decision making. For instance, one study revealed that nearly half of 805 surveyed dentists had never accessed their state’s prescription drug monitoring program, as recommended by the American Dental Association, to control overuse of drugs such as opioids. The most common reason for this lapse was lack of awareness, which is now being addressed.

Another study explored the efficacy of dental practitioners in screening patients for high-risk types of oral human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been linked to oropharyngeal cancer. A majority of patients felt at ease answering questions related to increased risk for HPV on a tablet device in a dental setting. Those whose responses suggested a high risk allowed collection of oral rinse samples for HPV testing and follow-up. Most clinicians were comfortable with such screening procedures. As a result, HPV screening in dental settings was determined feasible, and it was recommended that it become routine.

NIDCR funding for such studies, totaling $37 million, is slated through 2026. The network is always looking for new partners from clinicians to researchers. This paves a way for practitioners, such as dental hygienists, to propose and participate in oral health research studies. To learn more about becoming a member or research partner, visit

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