News Release 

Employing dental informatics to improve oral health for better overall human health

Poised to impact people and populations

Regenstrief Institute

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IMAGE: Oral health is one of the most significant unmet health needs. Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry are employing dental informatics to improve oral health for better overall... view more 

Credit: Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry

INDIANAPOLIS - With the goal of improving oral health for better overall physical and emotional health, Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry are joining together to establish a novel dental informatics program.

The new program is one of only a few in the U.S., and is perhaps the only dental informatics program in the country linked to a clinical data repository managed by a regional health information exchange. The partnership will be led by Regenstrief Institute Research Scientist Thankam Thyvalikakath, DMD, PhD, associate professor in the IU School of Dentistry.

"Dental informatics is an important, growing discipline that is poised to deliver even greater impact to people and populations," said Peter Embí, M.D., 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."

Positioned at the intersection of dentistry and medicine, the Regenstrief-IU School of Dentistry dental informatics 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 new program will use both electronic dental and medical record data for clinical research to develop interoperable databases and 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."

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

"While medicine has a long history of applying informatics approaches for research and patient care, in dentistry, clinical informatics is still in its infancy. With increased use of electronic dental record data for research and developing informatics interventions for patient care, that gap can narrow," Dr. Thyvalikakath said as she assumes leadership of the collaborative dental informatics program. "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."

With grant support from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) for the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, Dr. Thyvalikakath established a repository of data from 99 private dental practices in the U.S. that for the first time has demonstrated the feasibility of utilizing electronic dental record data from private practices for research and quality improvement purposes.

Dr. Thyvalikakath is currently the principal investigator of an NlH-supported study assessing oral health and dental treatment outcomes in Sjögren's Syndrome patients, an autoimmune condition that is most common in older women. The 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 Dr. Thyvalikakath.

The clinical data repository is the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), managed by the Indiana Health Information Exchange. In addition to the INPC, a clinical data resource of which the Regenstrief Institute is the steward for research purposes via its partnership with the IHIE, the Regenstrief-IU Dental 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.

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About Regenstrief Institute

Founded in 1969 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Regenstrief Institute is a local, national and global leader dedicated to a world where better information empowers people to end disease and realize true health.

The Regenstrief Institute and its researchers are responsible for a growing number of major health care innovations and studies. Examples include development of electronic health record innovations, global health solutions, and information technology standards that enable the use and interoperability - to improvements in patient-physician communications and the creation of models of care that inform practice and improve the lives of patients around the globe.

A key research partner to Indiana University, Regenstrief Institute is celebrating 50 years of healthcare innovation. Sam Regenstrief, a successful entrepreneur from Connersville, Indiana, founded the institute with the goal of making healthcare more efficient and accessible for everyone. His vision continues to guide the institute's research mission.

About Indiana University School of Dentistry

The only dental school in the Hoosier state, Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) offers an extraordinary learning environment in which teaching, research and community service come together in the best way possible for the preparation of tomorrow's dental professionals. About 80 percent of the dentists practicing in the state of Indiana are alumni of the school.

Founded in 1879 in Indianapolis, IUSD is located on the health sciences campus of IUPUI, one of the outstanding urban universities in the United States with a recognized commitment to community engagement. IUSD capitalizes on the campus's central location in the state and its position in the research corridor that links IUPUI, Purdue University West Lafayette, and Indiana University Bloomington. IUSD faculty conduct world-class interdisciplinary research in collaboration with the other IU health science schools and the Purdue Schools of Engineering and Technology and Science.

More about Peter Embí, M.D.

In addition to his Regenstrief appointments as president and CEO, Dr. Embí is the Leonard Betley Professor of Medicine and associate dean for informatics and health services research at IU School of Medicine, associate director of informatics with Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and vice president for Learning Health Systems with Indiana University Health.

More about Thankam Thyvalikakath, DMD, PhD

In addition to her role as a Regenstrief research scientist, Dr. Thyvalikakath is the director of the Dental Informatics Core, an associate professor at IU School of Dentistry and an adjunct associate professor in the IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing.

More about Carol Anne Murdoch-Kinch, DDS, PhD

Dr. Murdoch-Kinch is the 10th person and first woman to serve as dean of Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Murdoch-Kinch earned her certificate in Dental Diagnostic Sciences and PhD at IUSD before joining the University of Michigan, where she was clinical professor, associate dean for academic affairs, and the Dr. Walter H. Swartz Professor of Integrated Special Care Dentistry.

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