Oral health network opens new research opportunities

2013 05 13 16 04 41 767 Canadian Flag 200

A nascent network is beginning to connect Canadians involved in oral health research. The goal is to harness more of the potential of members of this community who are spread out from coast to coast to coast by connecting nodes of common interest, ranging from aboriginal oral health to orofacial pain.

The Network for Canadian Oral Health Research (NCOHR) -- the first of its kind in Canada -- received its first funding in mid-2012, according to founder and Director Debora Matthews, DDS, MSc, who is also the assistant dean of research at the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr. Matthews was awarded approximately $600,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and $225,000 in partnership funding to establish the network, which involves representatives from all 10 Canadian dental faculties and schools.

The impetus for applying to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for funding to kick-start the network was the fact that the oral health research community in Canada is relatively small, and researchers in some of the smaller schools often have difficulty finding mentors or collaborators within their own institutions, according to Dr. Matthews.

"One of the network's two main purposes is to encourage the development of new, collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams to look at questions about oral health in new ways," she told DrBicuspid.com. "And the second purpose is to encourage students to consider research as a career; deciding whether or not to pursue a graduate degree is sometimes a difficult financial decision, so we have to make [academia] appealing in other ways."

One of the projects on the drawing board is a two-day workshop that three graduate students from each of the Canadian dental schools will be invited to attend. The gathering will provide the students with information about academic careers and offer networking opportunities.

Aboriginal oral health, orofacial pain

Another project will create a collaborative team that will focus on aboriginal oral health.

"Aboriginal communities are tired of being researched -- they'd like some action," Dr. Matthews noted. "It's important that their voices are included in our network so we can implement appropriate measures to improve oral health in their communities."

“The scope and quality of dental research in Canada are great, so we want to foster that.”
— Carlos Quiñonez, DMD, PhD,
     University of Toronto

Robert Schroth, DMD, PhD, and Mary McNally, DDS, MSc, are preparing for a preliminary workshop to be held either in the summer or fall. The goal is to have an open dialogue and listen to what the leaders of the aboriginal communities believe are the main barriers to accessing oral healthcare, according to Dr. Schroth, a professor of preventive dental science at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

"Sometimes the cookie-cutter approach doesn't work to improve community oral health, and we have to incorporate culturally appropriate solutions," he said.

Another subgroup of the NCOHR that's already been formed is the Canadian Orofacial Pain Team. Led by Gilles Lavigne, DMD, PhD, the team will formalize, broaden, and tighten ties that connect Dr. Lavigne -- the Canada Research Chair in pain, sleep, and trauma at the University of Montreal -- to colleagues in Vancouver, Toronto, and other centers in Canada and around the world. They want to increase awareness of the significant impact of disorders such as temporomandibular joint disorder, burning mouth syndrome, and tension headache linked to bruxism.

Another goal is to build up the base of evidence supporting the use of pharmaceutical and complementary products for orofacial pain that do not have the serious side effects associated with traditional pain medication. They hope to do this in collaboration with M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, who recently moved back to the U.S. from Montreal to become the scientific director for the division of intramural research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

"The point of the network is to include all researchers in the country, not just the ones we recently awarded funding to," Dr. Matthews said. Examples of other potential new, future team focuses are salivary biomarkers and cell signaling, she added.

Website coming soon

To this end, the NCOHR's website is expected to go live this month, and one of its features will be a registry of people in Canada who are interested in oral health research.

There will also be a series of working papers, or as-yet unpublished manuscripts, along with short, plain-language summaries of those papers, on the website. They will be available at no cost to anyone who has a computer and Internet access.

"The working papers will give researchers and community partners the opportunity to have their new ideas and/or pilot work peer-reviewed before sending it out to more established journals for review," explained Carlos Quiñonez, DMD, PhD, an assistant professor of dental public health at the University of Toronto, Ontario, who is quarterbacking this component of the NCOHR. "We have not made a formal call for papers yet, but it is safe to assume that we will receive papers across the spectrum of the dental sciences, from oral microbiology and dental materials science to clinical and population health research. The scope and quality of dental research in Canada are great, so we want to foster that."

He said the first paper on the website likely will be "Why was dental care excluded from Canadian Medicare?"

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