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GOAL 4: Ensure that a strong research workforce is dedicated to improving dental, oral, and craniofacial health.

Two NIDCR investigators in a laboratory reviewing notes 

Some of the most remarkable advances in science and technology have come from unanticipated fields of research, where the original discoveries had broader applications than what was originally envisioned. With this in mind, NIDCR seeks to support an ample and diverse pipeline of well-trained and highly competent investigators for years to come. NIDCR believes that a variety of flexible and innovative research training and career development programs is needed to recruit and retain experts with the appropriate skills to conduct oral health research in an increasingly complex environment. The challenges in doing so include i) improving the recruitment and retention of minorities and other underrepresented groups in research, ii) cultivating and sustaining future leaders in clinical and translational research, and iii) developing researchers with interdisciplinary skills to address multipronged issues in oral health. Many of these disciplines are just emerging, yet it is critical that they be woven into ongoing and new research projects.


Objective 4-1

Collaborate with academic institutions, especially schools of dentistry, to create research pathways for faculty and trainees.

NIDCR-sponsored individual and institutional research training and career development programs encompass all career stages in the research continuum.55 NIDCR’s primary focus in this continuum is its strong support of a research emphasis in academic dentistry. NIDCR will continue to offer funding opportunities for established researchers, postdoctoral researchers, dental students, and undergraduates in various disciplines (See Figure 1). The Institute will also adapt funding strategies that are flexible in design and duration to attract and mentor qualified individuals to successful careers in oral health research. In keeping with a recommendation from the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director’s Working Group on the Biomedical Workforce,56 NIDCR will collaborate with academic institutions to evaluate outcomes of NIDCR-supported programs and approaches that support training and make adjustments over time to further enhance the value of these programs.

Two NIDCR investigators in a laboratory looking at test tubes 

NIDCR’s emphasis on support of individual research training and career development will continue. Such programs have a track record in attracting and retaining oral health researchers. These defined programs include training opportunities for combined dualdegree D.D.S./D.M.D.-Ph.D. students, pre-doctoral Ph.D. students, individuals with dental degrees earning Ph.D. or equivalent research degrees, individuals with a D.D.S./D.M.D. or other clinical degrees seeking protected time for mentored research training and career development, and individuals with a D.D.S./ D.M.D., Ph.D., or other doctoral degree pursuing postdoctoral training. The Institute is committed to supporting and nurturing earlystage investigators as well as those new to oral health research through various means including, but not limited to, the NIH Pathway to Independence Award program57 and the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award.58

In addition to supporting research training and career development for clinical researchers using several individual funding mechanisms, NIDCR encourages oral health scientists and trainees to take advantage of clinical research opportunities within nationwide infrastructures such as the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award program. The Institute also encourages the oral health research community to develop and maintain clinical research partnerships with the practicing community, and with other sites that support multidisciplinary research teams, including the NIDCR intramural program and the NIH Clinical Center.

Figure 1. Proportion of FY2013 NIDCR Extramural Research and Training and Career Development Support by Type of Academic Institution

Figure showing the proportion of NIDCR spending for extramural research 

Figure 1 shows the proportion of NIDCR spending for extramural research and research training and career development in fiscal year 2013 by type of academic institution. Dental schools are the largest recipient of NIDCR funding.59

Objective 4-2

Sustain research-related career enhancement-opportunities in research.

NIDCR will continue supporting dental practice-based research. This program has proven to be a highly effective and innovative method for generating and codifying clinical situations that can challenge and strengthen the oral health evidence base. After launching the Practice-Based Research Network in 2005, NIDCR supported three regional networks across the country. Each had its own independent affiliated practitioners, clinical studies, and administrative tasks. The second phase of this initiative, launched in 2012, is the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, or National Dental PBRN, that consists of one national administrative hub that leads and oversees regional research nodes anchored in six U.S. cities.60 The expanded network will increase significantly the number of participating practitioners, with the goal of producing data that can be better generalized to the highly diverse U.S. population.

The National Dental PBRN has, in addition, had extraordinary value in growing the oral health workforce to include clinician-scientists conducting research with people in everyday practice settings (see “Postcards from the Field”). National Dental PBRN studies active or in development include HPV screening, examining potential benefits of devices for detecting dental decay, improving diagnosis and treatment of cracked teeth, identifying factors that predict successful dental crown placements, and testing a dentist-delivered quit-smoking program. An important benefit of the National Dental PBRN initiative has been the increased value of evidence-based practice in the eyes of the practicing community as well as an increased interest and participation in research activities.

NIDCR will consider avenues to encourage bidirectional research, an iterative knowledge exchange between basic scientists and clinicians. Scientific insights into biological mechanisms and disease processes inform and spur new clinical interventions. Conversely, clinical observation about the nature and progression of disease stimulates new basic investigations. NIDCR will consider using new digital tools and technologies to crowdsource research questions and encourage ongoing dialogue on clinical issues, consistent with NIH activities in this arena. Enhanced communication with the practice community will facilitate sharing of research resources, such as biobanks for clinical biospecimens, data-collection tools, and knowledge emanating from new evidence.

Objective 4-3

Support research, training, and career development programs that value team science, transformative approaches, and diversity at all levels.

NIDCR remains committed to increasing diversity in the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. In 2013, the Institute established a workforce committee to improve efforts to recruit, train, and nurture individuals from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research. Investigative activities will include new networking and mentoring opportunities that dovetail with ongoing efforts at NIH to increase diversity in the biomedical workforce. NIDCR will consider rigorous outreach programs to enlist professional societies, government agencies, academic institutions, industry, and community organizations to develop new approaches to attract and sustain a more diverse workforce confronting research problems in dental, oral, and craniofacial health.

Dental, oral, and craniofacial research investigations often draw from the measures and methods of multiple scientific disciplines. NIDCR will continue to recruit researchers trained in complementary areas of biomedical and behavioral research to oral health research. The NIDCR K18 program, launched in 2013, solicits applications for shortterm mentored career enhancement awards in dental, oral, and craniofacial research, with a focus on behavioral and social sciences or genetic/genomic research — two areas of science poised for rapid growth.62 This program’s intent is to provide mid-career or senior investigators with short-term training in the theories, tools, methods, or approaches in behavioral and social sciences or genetic/genomic research, or in oral health research, to either i) enrich an investigator’s existing dental, oral, and craniofacial research program; or ii) facilitate the introduction of dental, oral, and craniofacial research into an investigator’s existing research areas.

A group of young NIDCR investigators 

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.

The Nation’s Network

A map of the United States showcasting the numbers of enrolled practitioners, about 4200, in The National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. The map is divided into 6 rigions, Western Region; Midwest Region; Southwest Region; South Central Region; South Atlantic Region; and Northeast Region 

The National Dental Practice-Based Research Network has about 4,200 enrolled practitioners, representing all 50 states.61

Postcards From the Field

“Instead of reading about the future of dentistry, I was a part of doing the research and building that future. I’ve met colleagues through the PBRN network who have been some of the best and brightest, and they’ve given me ideas and helped to re-energize me in my practice. There really is no other way to say it. Joining a PBRN is the best thing that I’ve done for my practice, my patients, and actually myself since graduating from dental school.”

Dr. Julie Ann Barna, Lewisburg, PA
D.M.D., University of Pennsylvania (1980)

“The National Dental PBRN has had a positive influence on me and my practice. It has reenergized my enthusiasm by challenging me to improve my critical thinking. Doing these research studies has gently nudged me to stay current, making me a better clinical scientist and in doing so, has opened a new avenue for my professional development. By connecting me with other network dentists, this experience makes me feel less isolated from my colleagues.”

Dr. Paul Benjamin, Miami, FL D.M.D.
University of Florida College of Dentistry (1976)

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This page last updated: July 29, 2014