The genesis of the network began in 1998 after Dr. Gregg Gilbert embarked on a plan to add substantially to the data collection for a six-year population-based study called the “Florida Dental Care Study”, which was ultimately supported by seven NIH grants over a 10-year period and led to 75 peer-reviewed scientific publications. The study involved in-person interviews and clinical examinations on randomly selected community-dwelling adults across north Florida. Dr. Gilbert felt that a substantial amount of detail could be added by reviewing the dental records of any participant who happened to have received dental care during follow-up (the study itself did not require receipt of dental care). To collect these data, Dr. Gilbert needed to obtain approval from dental practices that coincidentally served these patients, so that charts could be abstracted. The success of the study exceeded expectations, in that almost all of the 286 dental practices participated. The early fear was that only dentists who perceived themselves as high-quality, with “nothing to hide”, would participate. However, this was not the case, and in fact, many practices, without prompting, offered to participate in future studies. This reinforced Dr. Gilbert’s vision that creating a network of community practitioners as partners in research could be critical to moving scientific advances into everyday clinical practice.
Dr. Gilbert moved from the University of Florida to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 2000. Convinced that his vision could come to fruition, he applied for and received in 2002 a grant from a UAB foundation to begin an Alabama dental PBRN. A key justification for this grant was the success with the Florida Dental Care Study, including use of its “Dentist and Practice Characteristics” questionnaire for the Dental PBRN’s Enrollment Questionnaire. The UAB grant allowed the Alabama region to quickly expand to become the nation’s first state-wide dental PBRN. The success of this development far exceeded initial expectations. It successfully enrolled several hundred Alabama dentists and received NIH funding for a clinical trial on tobacco cessation counseling in dental practice and an additional NIH grant to conduct a study about root canal treatment effectiveness and to develop the network further.
Partly because of his vision and successes with his PBRN work to that point, in 2005 Dr. Gilbert received an NIH grant to fund a U.S. multi-region and multi-national (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) dental PBRN for 2005-2012 (see Dental PBRN Network Chair). This grant allowed the PBRN (“The Dental PBRN”) to expand from one limited to Alabama, to one that engaged thousands of dentists nationally and internationally. It included regions based at the HealthPartners Institute (Dr. Brad Rindal), the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute (Dr. Jeffrey Fellows), the University of Copenhagen (Dr. Vibeke Qvist), and the University of Florida (Dr. Valeria Gordan). In addition to expanding the vision nationally and internationally, the vision broadened to deliberately include clinicians from a diverse range of practice types – from solo private practice, to group private practice, to networks of group practices, to public health and community health clinics, to extramural academic settings. Following successful competition with applications from two other regional networks (the former NWPRECEDENT network based at the University of Washington and the former PEARL network based at New York University), “The Dental PBRN” expanded to include regions based at the University of Rochester (Dr. Cyril Meyerowitz) and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (Dr. David Cochran). This expansion in 2012 created a single, integrated national network comprising six regions called the “National Dental PBRN”.
A hallmark of the network has been its high level of productivity, in terms of moving scientific advances into routine clinical practice, the number of peer-reviewed scientific publications, the number of scientific presentations, the number of practitioners who completed one or more studies, the number of patients enrolled, and the volume of data generated. It is important to understand that part of the network’s vision was not to view practitioners as data collectors, but instead to engage them as truly equal collaborators, who have an immense amount of practical clinical expertise which until then had been largely ignored. Practitioners are engaged at every step of the research and discovery process, including engaging them as change agents to help move recent science into everyday clinical practice. Practitioners in everyday clinical practice can create an openness to change among their fellow colleagues which academic scientists could never achieve. Additionally, the network’s vision has led to demonstrating that highly interactive meetings among practitioners encourage collegial interaction among peers and generate ideas for new studies, activities which themselves may help speed translation of evidence into everyday practice.
These articles help track the history of the network:
Gilbert GH, Fellows JL, Allareddy V, Cochran DL, Cunha-Cruz J, Gordan VV, McBurnie MA, Meyerowitz C, Mungia R, Rindal DB, National Dental PBRN Collaborative Group. Structure, function and productivity from the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science 2022; 6(1):e87.
Gilbert GH, Williams OD, Korelitz JJ, Fellows JL, Gordan VV, Makhija SK, Meyerowitz C, Oates TW, Rindal DB, Benjamin PL, Foy PJ for the National Dental PBRN Collaborative Group. Purpose, structure and function of the United States National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. Journal of Dentistry 2013; 41(11):1051-1059.
Gilbert GH, Richman JS, Gordan VV, Rindal DB, Fellows JL, Benjamin PL, Wallace-Dawson M, Williams OD for The DPBRN Collaborative Group. Lessons learned during the conduct of clinical studies in The Dental PBRN. Journal of Dental Education 2011; 75(4):453-465.
Gilbert GH, Williams OD, Rindal DB, Pihlstrom DJ, Benjamin PL, Wallace MA for The DPBRN Collaborative Group. The creation and development of The Dental Practice-Based Research Network. Journal of the American Dental Association 2008; 139(1): 74-81.