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Health Disparities Research Program

Contact: Dr. Jane Atkinson (301) 435-7908, jatkinso@mail.nih.gov​

Despite remarkable improvements in the oral health of the American population, not everyone in the nation has benefited equally.  Dental, oral, and craniofacial conditions remain among the most common health problems for low-income, racial/ethnic minority, disadvantaged, disabled, and institutionalized individuals across the life span.  Dental caries, periodontal disease, and oral and pharyngeal cancer are of particular concern.

The Health Disparities Research Program supports studies that:

  • provide a better understanding of the basis of health disparities and inequalities;
  • develop and test interventions tailored/targeted to underserved populations; and
  • explore approaches to the dissemination and implementation of effective findings to assure rapid translation into practice, policy and action in communities.

Types of Research Supported


The NIDCR supports:

  • ​research that seeks to understand a broad array of determinants of disparities/inequalities in oral health status and care at multiple levels;
  • research that explores: biological (including genetic), environmental, social, behavioral, psychological, cultural and contextual aspects of disparities/inequalities and their interactions; communication aspects, including health literacy and social networks; and systems-level factors;
  • research that utilizes mixed methods;
  • interventional studies designed to have a meaningful impact on oral health status and quality of life, and that will influence action in health care, public policy, or disease/disability prevention in communities;
  • cost analyses of interventions and comparative effectiveness studies;
  • research studies that intervene upon “upstream factors;”
  • research studies that explore innovation in models of health service delivery and policy;
  • research on novel interventions and on interventions that have not previously been tested with vulnerable populations; and
  • research that utilizes new technologies and approaches that are practical, culturally appropriate and sustainable, and that can be put into practice by individuals, caregivers, and health workers.

Disadvantaged and Vulnerable Populations


NIDCR-supported health disparities research focuses on disadvantaged and vulnerable population subgroups, including:

  • ​All racial/ethnic populations with oral health disparities, including African American, Hispanic (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander;
  • Low-income rural or urban dwellers;
  • Special needs populations including those with acquired or developmental physical or intellectual disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS;
  • Frail and dependent older adults; and
  • Home-bound and institutionalized individuals.

Types of Researchers

Given the complexity and cross-cutting nature of health disparities research, multi- and inter-disciplinary teams and strong community-based partnerships are needed frequently.

  • ​Researchers from many backgrounds and disciplines contribute to health disparities/inequalities research.  Research teams include individuals with expertise in social science, genetics, epidemiology, dentistry and dental hygiene, medicine and nursing, occupational therapy, clinical nutrition, pathology, medical anthropology, behavioral sciences, psychology, microbiology, health promotion, informatics, mHealth, health services, economics, health policy, social work, law, child development, biostatistics, communications, education, engineering and bioethics.
  • Teams that conceptualize, plan and conduct health disparities/inequalities research should include community members of the disadvantaged and vulnerable population subgroups as partners in the research enterprise. Teams may include partners from non-health sectors, e.g., transportation, urban planning, education.  
  • Increasing the cadre of researchers pursuing health disparities research, particularly those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, is essential.  Opportunities exist for training, career development and loan repayment.

Mechanisms for support

Investigators are encouraged to refer to the NIDCR 2014-2019 Strategic Plan and to the full listing of Funding Opportunity Announcements for health disparities research and health literacy research.  Investigator-initiated applications in response to NIH parent grant announcements and applications responsive to NIDCR Program Announcements are encouraged.  Please see:

For information on design, planning, or implementation of clinical trials, see the “Clinical Trials Program.”

Additional Information


For further information about the Health Disparities Research Program, please contact:

photo of Dr. Ruth Nowjack-Raymer 

Jane Atkinson, DDS
Acting Director, Health Disparities Research Program
Division of Extramural Research
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
6701 Democracy Blvd.
Room 634, Mail Stop 4878
Bethesda, MD  20892-4878
Telephone: (301) 435-7908​​
Email: jatkinso@mail.nih.gov

Laura Hsu, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Health Specialist
Division of Extramural Research
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
6701 Democracy Blvd.
Room 636, Mail Stop 4878
Bethesda, MD  20892-4878
Telephone: (301) 594-4807
Email: Laura.Hsu@nih.gov​​


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This page last updated: July 13, 2016