Dental and Oral Health Research Industry; A Call for Action.
By: Weam Banjar, DDS., MS in Clinical Research
Dentistry is a fast growing industry that integrates art, health, engineering, humanitarian sciences, and biomedical sciences to produce a high-standard quality of care, technologies, and policies. Oral health services and preventive programs are essential components of the healthcare system. Thus, the need for oral and dental health research activities are increasingly becoming pivotal to maintain the healthcare system sustainability through improving the quality of care, continuous monitoring, and population wellbeing. The investment in dental and oral health research is a long-term rewarding investment that reflects on operational efficiency and quality, economic burden, social resilience, and overall population wellbeing and quality of life.
Regardless of recently recognized increased financial and logistic support for health and biomedical research, dental and oral health activities received little attention due to a number of factors. National health statistics and health indicators often pay less attention to oral and dental health indicators and its determinants regardless of proven bidirectional interaction between systemic and oral health. The focus on the burden of systemic health is primarily driven by traditional perception of dentistry as a luxury, the full-time researchers with background in dentistry is scarce, and available local studies on the burden of oral and dental diseases and conditions are limited and could not support the motion toward establishing the infrastructure for dental research. Dentists themselves had not invested enough effort to fight for dental research, available literature was often produced by academia whose most of their published work was for promotion and to serve the educational objectives. This had resulted in lack of large-scale assessment and/ or continuous research activities that monitor a phenomenon over time. Absence of a career-path for researchers and the infrastructure of dental research had led dentists to limit research involvement.
Most oral and dental diseases and conditions are preventable. The burden of which may involve a negative impact on systemic health due to the bidirectional interaction between oral and systemic health and supported by remote infection theory, economic burden due to the cost of dental care. The multifactorial nature of oral and dental diseases and conditions necessitates implementation of a holistic approach to mitigate the risk, design targeted preventive programs, and establish a dental care model that addresses the population needs and considers their demands. Evidence-based planning and policy development allows for maximum efficient resources allocation, definition of population needs and demands, identification of risk, and population specific preventive and awareness programs. Research activities are the best approach to establish evidence that supports the process of planning and development. Both health policy and clinical/ epidemiological studies are equally important. It is important to acknowledge that a holistic (multi- and interdisciplinary) approach to addressing dental and oral health challenges is essential to establish comprehensive evidence that supports the health transformation programs.
Every effort should be exercised to develop a sound infrastructure for oral and dental health research. Research tracks and themes should be focused on health policy, system improvement, and epidemiological assessment. Full-time researchers who are armed with dental knowledge and research knowledge should be supported with a clear career-path that ensures professional and employment security.
Oral and dental health is no longer a luxury. Research produces necessary evidence to support the system improvement and policy development. Infrastructure reform should pay attention to human capital as a cornerstone in the process as equal as to non-human resources.