Last spring, NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) awarded a seven year grant for $66.8 million to consolidate the dental practice-based research network initiative into a unified nationally coordinated effort.
The effort renamed “National Dental Practice-Based Research Network” (NDPBRN) is now headquartered at the University of Alabama (UAB) at Birmingham in their School of Dentistry to serve as a hub to oversee six smaller regional research sites or nodes.
NDPBRN will conduct studies to better integrate dental practices into the larger healthcare system and at the same time, reach out to further dental education and document these changes that occur in everyday clinical practices.
A dental practice-based research network is composed of practicing dentists and academic scientists. The network provides practitioners to participate in research studies that address day-to-day issues in oral healthcare. The studies are conducted in participating dental offices to help expand the profession’s evidence base to further refine care.
Since launching the practice-based initiative in 2005, NIDCR now supports three regional networks including the one at UAB. The initial seven year regional dental grants have been productive. The networks have enrolled 1,719 practitioners in 43 states and have organized 51 research studies that have generated 87 journal articles. Under the current NDPBRN grant, plans are to expand the number of participating practitioners to 5,000.
NDPBRN is also looking for practitioners to participate in various dental subspecialties such as endodontists, periodontists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, prosthodontists, oral pathologists, as well as pediatric and public health dentists. Community health centers, federal dental services as in the VA, DOD, and IHS are encouraged to participate.
Community Catalyst, a project underway to improve dental care has formed a panel of academic experts to develop a set of evidence-based national education standards for programs that educate dental therapists in the U.S.
Dental therapists serve as members of a dental team. They work under the supervision of a dentist in a collaborative way to extend the reach of the oral health care team. Dental therapists have been practicing in Alaska since 2006 and in Minnesota for one year with education programs in both states. Currently, dental therapists are working with no recognized national education standards or accreditation programs.
As more states consider expanding the dental workforce with alternative dental providers, the dental education community is calling for standards to guide the development of new programs. A new panel has been set up to build on curriculum guidelines for dental therapist education.
Dr. Dominick DePaola, Associate Dean at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine is serving as the Chairman of the “Dental Therapy Program Education Standards Advisory Panel” charged with developing the standards.
The recommendations established by the panel will build upon research and best practices derived from existing dental therapist education and practice programs in the U.S. and other countries. The panel will incorporate the recent work of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, which developed and recommended a model curriculum that could be used by institutions considering establishing dental therapist education programs.
With the growing numbers of people seeking treatment for dental problems, half a dozen states have submitted legislation seeking to establish dental therapists. Other states, coalitions, and tribes are pursing pilot projects studying the feasibility of adding dental therapists to the dental team, and multiple other states are seeking and sharing information on the option.
The Advisory panel met in December and plans to complete the recommendations in 2013. Community Catalyst with the assistance of the LPaC Alliance, a law, policy, and consulting firm based in Minnesota with experience in establishing dental therapists in their state and the W.K Kellogg Foundation are funding the project.