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Oral and Dental Health specialty profile



Why you should deliver oral and dental health research in the UK

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) provides researchers with the practical support they need to make research happen in the NHS and the wider health and social care environment. CRN Oral and Dental Health is one of 30 specialties which bring together communities of clinicians and researchers to provide a network of research expertise across the UK. We deliver research which spans the whole range of oral and dental diseases including caries and periodontal diseases, oral cancer, rare genetic diseases, investigations of oral conditions and orthodontic needs including prevention and management.

The studies take place in a range of settings, including hospital in-patients, dental hospital outpatients, primary care, school and community environments and university research facilities. 

We understand the requirements to deliver studies effectively and in a timely manner. The UK is uniquely placed to meet this need since our research leadership and workforce is organised to deliver and evaluate care under one common system. The UK has the optimum setting for high quality clinical trials and research programmes in oral health.


We are a UK-wide network of leading academic clinicians and researchers with experience in the efficient delivery of high quality studies across a range of dental disciplines. Our membership includes key opinion leaders who act as Principal and Chief Investigators at national and international levels. 

IADR (International Association for Dental Research) distinguished scientists have a higher proportional representation in the UK than in any other country worldwide.

Access to patients

Dentistry in the UK represents a unique facet of the work of the NHS. There are around 40,000 dentists and 60,000 dental care professionals registered with the General Dental Council. The majority of the UK population uses NHS dental services, meaning we have access to approximately 20 million adult and 10 million paediatric patients. 

NHS dental practices in the UK comply with the highest industry standards. In addition, dedicated and custom built dental clinical research facilities and further research laboratories in the UK Dental Schools ensure that we are equipped to manage the most complex and intensive clinical research projects. 

Strong patient and public involvement is embedded in our infrastructure to ensure a patient-centric approach in everything we do.

Study delivery

CRN Oral and Dental Health supports and oversees a wide range of studies from single-centre early stage evaluations, including first in man studies, through to large multi-centre observational studies, randomised controlled trials (RCT) of medicinal products and devices as well as health services research. Our track record:

  • 22,587 participants recruited into research studies in 2018/19 an increase of 346 per cent compared to 2017/18.
  • Over 1,284 sites recruited into Oral and Dental Health research studies in 2018/19, the majority of which were from primary care.
  • 86 per cent of studies completing in 2018/19 closed to time and target.


We work closely with key stakeholders including the NHS and Public Health bodies of the UK’s four nations to ensure that research findings are rapidly adopted into dental practice. We work with the wider dental industry to facilitate both highly focussed product evaluation research and wider scale population research. 

Oral health is an important component of general health and has strong links with systemic disease. We work closely with other CRN specialties to successfully deliver studies across a wide range of conditions including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory diseases.

Priority setting

In 2017, a ground-breaking partnership between the CRN Oral and Dental Health Specialty Group, in collaboration with the Dental Schools Council and Public Health England, was launched to identify unanswered questions relating to oral and dental health research from a patient, public and clinical perspective. The work has taken 18 months to complete and identified gaps in knowledge about oral and dental care using a method tried and tested by the James Lind Alliance (JLA). 

The Oral and Dental Health Specialty Group are particularly interested in hearing from organisations who are interested in research that falls into the top ten priorities. To find out more about the JLA Oral and Dental Health Priority Setting Partnership or to view the top ten priorities please visit:

Case studies

PREFER (The value and cost of different forms of information on oral health status and risk given to patients following check-up appointments in dental practices)

The CRN supported the recruitment of 405 participants from four practices. The findings of the study are helping to support innovations in the way health information is provided to patients. 

CABRIO (The Clinical And Biological effects of the use of pRobIOtic VSL#3 in patients with oral lichen planus: a proof-of-concept study)

The CRN supported the recruitment of 30 participants into a proof-of-concept study investigating potential beneficial effects of a probiotic food product onto the clinical manifestations of oral lichen planus, as well as circulating inflammatory markers and oral microbiome. This was an investigator-led trial with industry support. Further industry support is being sought in order to design a larger Phase II multicentric trial.

PANDORA (Point-of-care Analysis by Non-invasive Dielectrophoresis for ORAL cancer diagnosis)

The CRN supported the recruitment of 186 participants into a proof-of-concept study of a novel non-invasive technology for the diagnosis of oral cancer and precancer. The trial was funded through the NIHR Invention for Innovation programme and successfully recruited on time and to target. The study demonstrated that Dielectrophoresis can detect oral cancer cells collected through a painless soft brush with good specificity and sensitivity. The research team is now preparing a new grant application to complete the development of the diagnostic technology and its clinical testing.

Find out more

Visit our oral and dental health specialty page or access our Study Support Service.