Novel dental informatics program to improve oral health for better overall health

With the goal of improving oral health for better overall physical and emotional health, Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry are joining together to establish a novel dental informatics program.

The new program is one of only a few in the U.S., and is perhaps the only dental informatics program in the country linked to a clinical data repository managed by a regional health information exchange. The partnership will be led by Regenstrief Institute Research Scientist Thankam Thyvalikakath, DMD, PhD, associate professor in the IU School of Dentistry.

Dental informatics is an important, growing discipline that is poised to deliver even greater impact to people and populations. Leveraging the unique combined expertise of Regenstrief Institute and IU School of Dentistry, and making use of the robust research data repositories that we manage, our new joint program will lead to improvements in diagnosis, prevention and treatment across a range of diseases, ultimately improving medical and dental practice, individual well-being and population health."

Peter Embí, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Regenstrief Institute

Positioned at the intersection of dentistry and medicine, the Regenstrief-IU School of Dentistry dental informatics program plans to establish a research agenda that translates and implements its findings in dental offices and other points of care to enhance oral disease prevention and treatment. The new program will use both electronic dental and medical record data for clinical research to develop interoperable databases and advance the knowledge of oral health problems that cause, co-occur with or result from medical conditions.

"When we look at unmet health needs, oral health is one of the most significant," said Carol Anne Murdoch-Kinch, DDS, PhD, dean of the IU School of Dentistry. "With this new partnership between the dental school and Regenstrief Institute we will be well positioned to use the growing amount of data being collected by dentists and researchers to advance oral health and overall health for individuals everywhere."

The limited availability of high quality short-term and long-term evidence regarding dental treatment outcomes is a well-known problem.

"While medicine has a long history of applying informatics approaches for research and patient care, in dentistry, clinical informatics is still in its infancy. With increased use of electronic dental record data for research and developing informatics interventions for patient care, that gap can narrow," Dr. Thyvalikakath said as she assumes leadership of the collaborative dental informatics program. "Closing the circle between data acquisition and data use at the point of care will reduce the burden on patients of reporting their medical history and ultimately improve clinical practice and outcomes."

With grant support from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) for the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, Dr. Thyvalikakath established a repository of data from 99 private dental practices in the U.S. that for the first time has demonstrated the feasibility of utilizing electronic dental record data from private practices for research and quality improvement purposes.

Dr. Thyvalikakath is currently the principal investigator of an NlH-supported study assessing oral health and dental treatment outcomes in Sjögren's Syndrome patients, an autoimmune condition that is most common in older women. The project is expected to produce generalizable methods for linking dental and medical electronic health records and extracting clinical data for clinical, comparative effectiveness, and epidemiological research purposes.

"The IU School of Dentistry and Regenstrief partnership will help promote exchange of information and care coordination between dental and health providers and provide a vital model for others of how dental providers can access regional health exchange data to promote better overall health," said Dr. Thyvalikakath.

The clinical data repository is the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), managed by the Indiana Health Information Exchange. In addition to the INPC, a clinical data resource of which the Regenstrief Institute is the steward for research purposes via its partnership with the IHIE, the Regenstrief-IU Dental partnership will include access to electronic dental record data from the dental school and from dental practices across the country. The INPC is the nation's largest interorganizational clinical data repository with more than 12 billion data elements about patients in Indiana and beyond.

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