Goal 3: Apply Rigorous, Multidisciplinary Research Approaches to Overcome Disparities in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Health

The Institute pursues a balanced research portfolio that appropriately embraces the concept of high-risk, high-reward research. NIDCR will continue to participate in NIH Common Fund initiatives that enable such research. These include the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award,63 the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award,64 and the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award.65 NIDCR will also participate in the NIH Common Fund Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program,66 which aims to enhance biomedical and behavioral research training experiences so graduates are better prepared to enter the modern scientific workforce that extends well beyond academic research.

Objective 3-1

Support multidisciplinary, multilevel research and research training to overcome oral health disparities.

NIDCR will continue its substantial investment in oral health disparities research. Current multidisciplinary research teams working to establish the best methods to reduce oral health disparities in their communities are building on discoveries made during the last twenty years of this research program. Beginning with the establishment of regional centers in the 1990s to the most recent funding of the Centers for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health in 2008, the program was built using a team-science, multilevel approach. The Centers also have expanded the number of researchers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds by providing research training and career development opportunities for young investigators interested in health disparities-related research.

NIDCR will continue its support of research to understand how behavioral, cultural, and social factors contribute to oral health disparities and will apply clinical research strategies to develop effective interventions to prevent and manage oral diseases. NIDCR pursues basic and clinical research on determinants of behavior change, and also emphasizes training and mentoring opportunities for investigators to acquire the knowledge and skills to conduct rigorous research in this area through the use of appropriate behavioral mechanisms, theory, and methods.51 NIDCR will encourage research that identifies new outcome measures tightly linked to proposed behavioral mechanisms of action — going beyond current proxy measures such as self-reporting. Selected areas of focus include preventing childhood caries, supporting families in establishing lifelong healthy habits, optimizing tobacco cessation strategies for use by dental health care providers, promoting recovery after oral and pharyngeal cancer treatment, managing chronic orofacial pain, and enhancing the oral health of vulnerable individuals, including the elderly.

Given the range of personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that independently and in combination influence oral health, interventions that target these multiple determinants of health are most likely to be effective. NIDCR will encourage research to address disparities and inequalities in oral health through a comprehensive approach including the social determinants of health, health policy, and an understanding of resilience, familial and social context, and social networks and systems within communities. The insight provided by disciplines such as the social sciences, anthropology, economics, political science, health policy and health services, and communications are essential to success.

Enhanced support for training in dental public health is another strategy for expanding oral health disparities research, and NIDCR will continue to sponsor a 12-month Residency Program in Dental Public Health.54 This program also provides experience in other areas of dental public health, such as public health administration and management, and the organization and financing of dental care programs. This initiative is designed to develop the next cadre of oral public health experts steeped in the value of research-based methodologies to fill a growing need for such expertise.

Objective 3-2

Foster research to promote the translation of scientific knowledge into community-based action.

Bringing the fruits of research discovery to underserved people and communities is one of the most difficult phases of the biomedical and behavioral research continuum. NIDCR is committed to redressing this persistent problem using a full range of research approaches tested in various communities (see White House Recognizes Oral Health Researchers). NIDCR will continue supporting communication science and health literacy research that seeks to increase capacity to obtain, process, and understand oral health information and services needed to make beneficial health decisions. Oral health literacy research to date has largely focused on the development of measures and assessment of oral health literacy within populations or settings. Research must now evolve to interventions. The Institute seeks to identify effective structures and programs that may be emulated and/or enhanced and that can be embraced fully by individuals in underserved communities. NIDCR also encourages research that tests methods of health-services delivery through a wide range of potential mechanisms. Dissemination and implementation research are essential to ensure that efficacious approaches do not benefit only the most advantaged in society. NIDCR supports research that seeks to identify, develop, and refine effective and efficient strategies to disseminate and implement evidence-based health promotion, prevention, early detection, diagnostic, and treatment services into public health programs, clinical settings, and to the public.

NIDCR will continue to support communitybased participatory research. In this context, the Institute will partner with patient advocates and community organizations to identify factors, both positive and negative, that influence the acceptance of pertinent research-based approaches that promise improved health outcomes community-wide.

Objective 3-3

Provide science-based information about oral health and disease to health care providers, patients and caregivers, policy makers, and the general public.

An important facet of the NIDCR mission is disseminating knowledge gained through research and its implications for health, to all segments of the American public. This task is particularly relevant for members of underserved populations who have uneven access to understandable information about maintaining health.

The Institute supports an in-house program that serves as a resource for science-based information about dental, oral, and craniofacial health. Its Office of Communications and Health Education will continue to produce and disseminate informational materials in expanded ways to take advantage of various new-media formats on a wide variety of topics. These include children’s oral health, oral cancer, periodontal disease, and oral health care for Americans with disabilities. NIDCR also provides materials in print and online to the media, health care professionals, educators and students, patient support organizations, caregivers for individuals with special needs, and the research community.


Last Reviewed
July 2018