Research is a chief priority at the School of Dental Medicine. As of 2009, the school is ranked 13th on the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research’s list of top dental schools in research funding.
Research at the school not only establishes national and international prominence, but also promotes high quality instruction. Through sharing their research knowledge, faculty encourage students to develop critical thinking regarding the scientific basis of practice and appreciation of the rapid changes within the profession.
In addition to the educational benefits of research, the generation of new knowledge can be applied to solutions of health-related problems. The school’s Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics (CCDG), Center for Craniofacial Regeneration (CCR), Center for Dental Informatics (CDI), Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia (COHRA), and Dental Registry and DNA Repository (DRDR) each serve to extend the frontiers of dentistry in their various disciplines.
Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics
The major research focus of the center is identifying genes that contribute to complex human phenotypes, primarily those involved in craniofacial and dental disorders. Such studies involve molecular and statistical genetic approaches for gene mapping and identification, as well as investigations into phenotype delineation and behavioral and epidemiological factors contributing to each disorder.
Center for Craniofacial Regeneration
The Center for Craniofacial Regeneration was established to develop tissue engineering-based treatments for wounds and defects of the face and skull that restore function as well as appearance. The tissues of the face and skull are many and complex. Accordingly, the center’s team represents many disciplines, and is rooted in the many achievements by University of Pittsburgh researchers in tissue regeneration and biomaterial development.
Center for Dental Informatics
The Center for Dental Informatics (CDI) conducts research on computer applications in dental practice, education, and research. The center is currently investigating how dental information can be represented better and more completely on computers, how dentists could talk to the computer to enter clinical information, and how a 3-D model of the patient could be integrated into electronic records. In addition, the center is in the process of deploying the Digital Vita project as part of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Digital Vita is a system to help scientists at Pitt find experts and collaborators among the more than 2,500 research scientists at the Health Science Center. The center continues to recruit for the Dental Informatics Training Program, which educates dentists and others in information science, computer science and health information technology. Please see http://di.dental.pitt.edu/ for more information.
Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia
Appalachia has the largest burden of oral health problems per capita in the United States. Furthermore, health disparities in oral health outcomes resulting from differences in socioeconomic status occur. The goal of the center is to identify factors that lead to oral health disparities in children and families in Appalachia. These factors may include genes, microbes, behavior, family interactions, or community characteristics. The center’s primary study is to examine these factors in a sample of 500 families followed for five years. The long-term goal is to identify targets for interventions and create effective interventions to reduce oral health disparities in this population.
Dental Registry and DNA Repository
The Dental Registry and DNA Repository (DRDR) is the first-known center of its kind to collect DNA samples paired with anonymous dental records for the purpose of assisting genetics research.
The Dental Registry and DNA Repository is revolutionary because it eliminates the need for further Institutional Review Board (IRB) evaluations for projects seeking to use data from the registry. Furthermore, the DRDR will allow the clinical faculty to engage in research activities and to increase the external funding for research at the School of Dental Medicine.
By obtaining clinical information and biological samples from willing patients treated at the clinics throughout the school, the DRDR can support research in the areas of oral cancer, cleft lip and/or palate, periodontal disease, and caries.
Other research efforts at the School of Dental Medicine include caries, periodontal disease, pharmacology and pain control, implantology, oral cancer, and dentistry for immunosuppressed patients. To accommodate research expansion at the School of Dental Medicine, a biomedical research tower, to be shared with the School of Pharmacy, is scheduled to be built behind Salk Hall during the coming academic year.