Informatics Program to Compile Private Practice Dental Data for Research Purposes

Dentistry Today
Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry​


Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry​

With the goal of improving oral health for better overall physical and emotional health, Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University (IU) School of Dentistry report that they are developing a novel dental informatics program. 

The new program is one of only a few in the United States and is perhaps the only dental informatics program in the nation linked to a clinical data repository managed by a regional health information exchange, according to the partners. 

“Dental informatics is an important, growing discipline that is poised to deliver even greater impact to people and populations,” said Peter Embí, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Regenstrief Institute. 

“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,” said Embí.

Positioned at the intersection of dentistry and medicine, the 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 program will use both electronic dental and medical record data for clinical research to develop interoperable databases that 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,” Murdoch-Kinch said.

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

“While medicine has a long history of applying informatics approaches for research and patient care, in dentistry, clinical informatics is still in its infancy,” said Thankkam Thyvalikakath, DMD, PhD, associate professor with the IU School of Dentistry, who will lead the partnership.

“With increased use of electronic dental record data for research and developing informatics interventions for patient care, that gap can narrow,” said Thyvalikakath.

“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,” said Thyvalikakath.

With grant support from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research for the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, Thyvalikakath established a repository of data from 99 private dental practices in the United States. 

For the first time, this repository has demonstrated the feasibility of utilizing electronic dental record data from private practices for research and quality improvement purposes, according to the partners.

Thyvalikakath is the principal investigator of a study supported by the National Institutes of Health assessing oral health and dental treatment outcomes in Sjögren’s syndrome patients. This 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 Thyvalikakath. 

The clinical data repository is the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), managed by the Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE). The Regenstrief Institute is the steward of the INPC for research purposes via its partnership with the IHIE.

In addition to the INPC, the 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, the partnership says.

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