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Health Disparities Research Program

Contact: Dr. Ruth Nowjack-Raymer (301) 594-5394,

Despite remarkable improvements in the oral health of the American population, not everyone in the nation has benefited equally.  Oral, dental 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 broadened array of determinants of disparities/inequalities in oral health status and care at multiple levels in preparation for intervention research.
  • research that explores: biological (including genetic), environmental, social, behavioral, psychological, cultural and contextual aspects of disparities/inequalities as well as their interactions; health literacy; and systems-level factors.  (Research in these areas will inform subsequent tailored/targeted interventional research.)
  • studies that take a holistic approach to interventions at multiple levels of influence including individual, community, health services, organizational an policy levels.
  • research that utilizes mixed methods.
  • interventional research 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 as well as comparative effectiveness studies.
  • behavioral and social science intervention research that is grounded in theory and considers mechanisms of action.
  • research that utilizes new technologies and approaches that are practical, culturally appropriate and sustainable, and that can be put into practice by individuals and caregivers and by health workers that are readily available in communities.
  • research on novel interventions as well as those that have not previously been tested with vulnerable populations.

Disadvantaged and Vulnerable Populations

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

  • All racial/ethnic populations with 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 (e.g. Appalachian) or urban dwellers;
  • Special needs populations including those with acquired or developmental physical or intellectual disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS;
  • Elders; 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 essential.

  • Researchers from many backgrounds and disciplines contribute to health disparities/inequalities research.  Research teams include individuals with expertise in genetics, social and other types of 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.
  • 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 

Ruth Nowjack-Raymer, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Director, Health Disparities Research Program
Division of Extramural Research
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
6701 Democracy Blvd.
Room 640, Mail Stop 4878
Bethesda, MD  20892-4878
Telephone: (301) 594-5394

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

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This page last updated: August 31, 2015