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Indiana Researchers Taking Big Data Approach to Dental Informatics

January 27, 2016
by David Raths
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Data mined from electronic dental records to be used for evaluating outcomes
Regenstrief Institute's Thankam Thyvalikakath

Researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Dentistry plan to conduct an analysis of electronic dental records of patients treated by dentists across the United States to explore the feasibility of using electronic dental records data for clinical research. 

The investigators will use data mined from electronic dental records of thousands of individual dental-practice members of the NIH-supported National Dental Practice-Based Research Network to assess treatment outcomes for posterior composite restorations and for root-canal procedures. 

The research is supported by a three-year $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research's National Dental Practice-Based Research Network.

Dental research has not been as robust as medical research. With this study of electronic dental records, however, that gap should narrow, explained Regenstrief Institute investigator Thankam Thyvalikakath, associate professor and director of the Dental Informatics Core of the Indiana University School of Dentistry, the principal investigator on the new grant. "We will be closing the circle between data acquisition and data use at the point of care to ultimately improve clinical practice. This will enable dentists to examine both their recordkeeping practices and clinical outcomes,” she said in a prepared statement.

Among the de-identified data to be collected will be demographics, reason for visit, medical and dental history, social history, tooth characteristics and treatment, as well as practice and practitioner characteristics.

"In the emerging climate of 'big data,' this coordinated data mining will be a huge leap forward in dental informatics, enabling us to have access to clinical outcomes that was not possible before," said John N. Williams, dean of the IU School of Dentistry, in a prepared statement. "The results could affect how we educate oral healthcare providers in designing the most effective, evidence-based treatments."