Skip to main content

Deborah Polk AB, PH.D

Assistant Professor

Deborah Polk, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Dental Public Health in the School of Dental Medicine and has a secondary faculty appointment in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences in the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Polk obtained her PhD in Clinical Psychology with a minor in Community Psychology at Indiana University, where she studied under Ken Heller. After completing a clinical internship at the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis consortium, she obtained postdoctoral training in Health Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, where she trained with Tom Kamarck, and Carnegie Mellon University, where she trained with Sheldon Cohen.

To a large extent, behavior at the individual level is determined by broader social factors. Dr. Polk studies the relationship between these broader social factors and both health behaviors and indicators of health, including disparities in health. Examples of social determinants she is interested in include socioeconomic status, social norms, and public policies. Examples of health behaviors include smoking and oral hygiene behaviors. And the health outcomes she studies include dental caries and periodontal disease. In addition, she identifies social and behavioral contexts in which genetic variants increase the probability of disease.


Dr Polk's Current Research

Title: Evidence-based Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Acute Dental Pain: Development, Implementation, and Evaluation Using Data Analytics to Target An Implementation Strategy

Funded by: United States Food and Drug Administration

Principal Investigators:  Deborah Polk, PhD- University of Pittsburgh and Alonso Carrasco-Labra, DDS, MSc, PhD- American Dental Association Science & Research Institute

Description: For managing acute dental pain, there is an urgent need to formalize the evidence-based alternative to opioids in a clinical practice guideline, disseminate the guidance, and facilitate its uptake by providers through an implementation strategy. The objectives of this research program are to develop a clinical practice guideline for the management of acute dental pain, develop and deploy dissemination and implementation strategies, and evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies in changing provider prescribing behavior. Upon completion of the project, it is believed that the field will have an established standard of care, patients will receive safe and effective relief from acute dental pain, and the risk of opioid diversion, opioid use disorder and overdose will be reduced.


Title: An Implementation Strategy for the Adoption of an Evidence-Based Guideline for Pit-and Fissure Sealants

Funded by: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Principal Investigator: Deborah Polk, PhD

Description: The purpose of this study is to determine whether Deliberative Loops are effective in increasing providers' adherence to the non-cavitated caries component of the American Dental Association's pit-and-fissure sealant evidence-based clinical practice guideline. The investigators use a stepped wedge design to randomly assign dental clinics to the Deliberative Loop intervention. In a Deliberative Loop, stakeholders receive background information, participate in a facilitated discussion, and share their views with leadership. The Deliberative Loop intervention is designed to help stakeholders form informed opinions. In this study, stakeholders will be forming informed opinions about the implementation interventions they think will increase their clinic's adherence to the guideline. The investigators hypothesize that compared with the pre-intervention period, following the intervention, providers will place or treatment plan sealants for significantly more occlusal non-cavitated carious lesions.


Education & Training
Cornell University, AB, Indiana University, PhD