The NIH Puts Willamette Dental Group to the Test. Will They Pass or Fail?

The National Institutes of Health will award 10 research grants aimed at eliminating inequities in access to care and improving the oral health of children. Totaling more than $7 million in first-year funding, these awards support the Multidisciplinary and Collaborative Research Consortium to Reduce Oral Health Disparities in Children, a new initiative of NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

The NIDCR, the nation’s leading funder of research on dental, oral, and craniofacial health, has recently funded a consortium of nine separate studies focused on studying the oral health of children in the United States. (See full list below*.) One of those studies is “Evaluating Standardized Preventive Care to Reduce Dental Disparities in Children”.  The goal of this study is to evaluate the impact of a standardized evidence-based prevention and treatment program on reducing disparities, providing better overall population health, improving the care experience and lowering per capita cost.

The multidisciplinary research team is also multi-institutional, with researchers joining from the Skourtes Institute, Williamette Dental Group, Harvard University, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and Oregon Health & Science University.

Principal investigators are Elizabeth Mertz, PhD, MA, assistant professor, and Joel White, DDS, MS. Mertz has been a UCSF researcher for 18 years with a doctorate in medical sociology, and has been a professor for the last six years. “Willamette Dental Group is leading the country, and the world, in its scientific-based preventive care model,” said Dr. Joel White, a doctor of dental surgery and professor in the Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. In order to conduct the study, there must be certain components in place: electronic health records, dental diagnostic terminology, clinical decision support, prevention and intervention, treatment, and patient engagement.

Oregon was chosen for this research project because children ages 0-20 in the state from lower-income households have a substantially higher dental caries rate than children from higher-income households. They also have nearly twice the untreated decay rate and more than twice the rate of rampant decay.

This research project will evaluate the disparity reduction and oral health improvement potential of innovative standardized caries prevention approaches implemented in Willamette Dental Group offices in Oregon. The project also will assess organizational sustainability cost and Medicaid policy implications.

The study will allow researchers to look at the entire process of oral hygiene and care, including everything from daily flossing to annual cleanings to x-rays. This review will enable them to understand the extent to which Willamette Dental Group’s treatment model and practice philosophy produces healthy patients. “This is pretty complex. It’s got patient health records, cost and cost benefit, patient interviews… and policy analysis. There’s no single individual who could do what we’re doing, so that’s why we have this team,” said Mertz.

The study’s focus is to look at children who are commercially insured and children who are insured through the Oregon Health Plan and see whether or not the company can reduce the gap in disease that currently exists between the two. Dr. Eugene Skourtes, the president and CEO of Willamette Dental Group, says the study will show if they can eliminate disparities and make them healthier.

Williamette who claims to be the ‘first in proactive dental care’ is headquartered in Hillsboro, OR. It is a privately held, accountable-risk bearing entity that provides individualized treatment programs for more than 400,000 members. With offices serving more than 50 communities, it is the Northwest’s largest team of dental healthcare providers.

The study is scheduled to last until 2018. Group Dentistry Now will keep you up-to-date on the study developments, findings, and conclusions. Stay informed by subscribing to GDN.

*The following projects will be funded for up to five years (pending available funds):

  • Integrating Interactive Parent Text Messaging and Oral Health Guidelines into Pediatric Community Health Centers to Reduce Early Childhood Caries Principal Investigators: Belinda Borrelli, Ph.D. and Michelle Henshaw, D.D.S., M.P.H.; Boston University Medical Campus; UH2DE025492-01
  • Using Social Networks to Improve Oral Health Principal Investigator: Raul Garcia, D.M.D.; Boston University Medical Campus; UH2DE025505-01
  • Multi-Level Interventions to Reduce Caries Disparities in Primary Care Settings  Principal Investigator: Suchitra Nelson, M.Sc., M.S.,Ph.D.; Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland; UH2DE025487-01
  • Influence of Financial Incentives on Oral Disease Management in Young Children  Principal Investigators: Stuart Gansky, Dr.P.H., James Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., and Francisco Ramos-Gomez, D.D.S., M.S., M.P.H.; University of California, San Francisco; UH2DE025514-01
  • Evaluating Standardized Preventive Care to Reduce Dental Disparities in Children  Principal Investigators: Elizabeth Mertz, Ph.D. and Joel White, D.D.S., M.S.; University of California, San Francisco; UH2DE025504-01
  • COordinated Oral Health Promotion (CO-OP) Chicago  Principal Investigator: Molly Martin, M.D., M.A.P.P.; University of Illinois at Chicago; UH2DE025483-01
  • Evaluating the Outcomes of Oral Health Workforce Policy to Increase Access to Dental Providers and Reduce Oral Health Disparities Principal Investigators: Melanie Simmer-Beck, R.D.H., Ph.D. and Patricia J. Kelly, Ph.D., M.P.H., A.P.R.N.; University of Missouri, Kansas City; UH2DE025510-01
  • Sociopolitical Policies That Reduce Disparities in Children’s Oral Health  Principal Investigators: Anne Sanders, Ph.D., and Gary Slade, Ph.D.; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; UH2DE025494-01
  • Oral Health Equity in Alaska (OHEAL): Implementation and Evaluation of Delivery System Changes to Reduce Oral Health Disparities for Native American Children  Principal Investigator: Joana Cunha-Cruz, D.D.S.,M.P.H., Ph.D.; University of Washington, Seattle; UH2DE025488-01
  • Coordinating Center to Help Eliminate/Reduce Oral Health Inequalities in Children Principal Investigators: Stuart Gansky, Dr.P.H. and Steven Gregorich, Ph.D.; University of California, San Francisco; U01DE025507-01

Sources: Business Wire, University of California San Francisco, National Institute of Health, Williamette Dental Group