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Oral and Dental Health

The NIHR is the nation's largest funder of health and care research and provides the people, facilities and technology that enable research to thrive. We work in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders (including industry and charities), patients and the public to improve the health and wealth of the nation.

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supported 61 studies on oral and dental health, 27 of which were new studies, and recruited 30,445 patients to studies last year (2019/20).

Bite off all you can chew

Many denture users have problems with them, and evidence shows people find it difficult to cope with some important food groups, affecting both a person's quality of life and nutritional status. The most important stage in creating comfortable dentures is considered to be taking the gum impressions, there are however gaps in the evidence pointing to which materials make the most effective moulds.

In a study funded by the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit Programme, patients received two sets of dentures, made using either alginate or silicone impressions, to wear in random order and rate the comfort, stability, chewing efficiency and experience of each mould.

Dentures created from a silicone mould were preferred over alginate. Given the extra cost of silicone impressions of £30 per patient, dentists should consider choosing silicone rather than alginate as their material of choice for complete dentures if patient circumstance can justify the extra cost.

Bringing into practice more acceptable treatments for child tooth cavities

Childhood experience of dental treatment is a significant factor in the development of dental anxiety, which can lead to avoidance of necessary dental treatment in later life. The Hall technique enables minimally invasive management of dental decay in children by placing preformed metal crowns over teeth, thus avoiding injections and drilling. 

A study funded through the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme used a split-mouth approach in which children were treated using both the Hall Technique and standard dental care. The study produced positive findings in relation to both the effectiveness of the Hall technique and its acceptability to patients and clinicians.

The findings from the study have had a significant impact in the UK and abroad - in clinical practice, in policy, in teaching and training, and on the body of research related to the Hall Technique. The Hall technique has been included in Scottish guidelines on the prevention and management of tooth decay in children, and in national guidelines for countries including New Zealand and Poland.

Improving oral health in children with cleft lip or palate

A cleft is a gap or split in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (palate) or both. Children born with cleft lip or palate can find it difficult to look after their teeth, which can affect the success of their treatment.

Researchers funded by the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme investigated a new way to help children with cleft lip or palate aged 5-11 years carry out good mouth care. The approach was based on ‘if-then’ plans, known as ‘implementation intentions’, which recognise that people want to act in a healthy way but don’t always manage to do so. Even simple ‘if-then’ plans have helped adults and children to keep to habits that many people find it hard to maintain, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet. 

The study demonstrated the appropriateness, feasibility and potential of this intention-based intervention to promote oral health in children with cleft, with potential for wider application in child health. 

Managing caries in deciduous teeth

Dental cavities in children are still highly prevalent in the UK and dentists carry out many thousands of procedures up and down the country every day to manage this. However, there is uncertainty amongst dentists as to the best way of managing this in deciduous (first) teeth.

The FiCTION Dental Trial looks at this uncertainty by investigating three different approaches. The results of the trial, funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, will inform policy, guidance and future teaching on managing dental caries in children.

Optimum recall intervals for maintaining oral health

The INTERVAL – Dental recalls trial is investigating whether risk based recall intervals or a fixed period 24 month recall are more effective in maintaining oral health than the traditional fixed period 6 month recall.

The trial is funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme and supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Oral and Dental Health Specialty.

Find an oral and dental health study in your area

You can find out more about oral and dental health studies in your area through the Be Part of Research website.

The NIHR provides researchers with the practical support they need to make clinical studies happen in the NHS and social care. 

We provide world-class health service infrastructure - research support staff such as clinical research nurses, and research support services such as pharmacy, pathology and radiology - to support organisations seeking to conduct clinical research in the NHS in England. Some of this research is funded by the NIHR, but most of it is funded by NHS non-commercial partners and industry.

We support the set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS through our Study Support Service and our Research Design Service helps researchers develop proposals to secure funding from our research programmes.

The Oral and Dental Health Specialty aims to support all research relating to the mouth, oral health and dentistry across the full range of research disciplines and settings. Primary and secondary care are both well represented on our portfolio as are studies relating to public health.

Studies in Oral and Dental Health cover:

  • Managing dental caries in younger children
  • Strategies for managing oral cancers
  • Developing and evaluating new technologies for the early detection of periodontal disease
  • Understanding the links between oral and systemic diseases
  • The health and cost impact of the routine dental treatments and procedures (such as the recall interval and the scale and polish)
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment of mandibular osteoradionecrosis
  • Reducing the recurrence of childhood dental caries
  • The impact of different ways of working in providing dental care


Top 10 priorities for Oral and Dental Health Research

For the first time, members of the public, patients, carers and dental health professionals have worked together to identify the most pressing unanswered research questions about how we can improve oral and dental health for individual patients, communities and the whole population.

Find out what our Oral and Dental Health Specialty can offer the life sciences industry and why you should place your study in England.

Want to participate in research but need Good Clinical Practice training?

We have developed a free online Good Clinical Practice (GCP) course, visit the NIHR Learn GCP webpage to find out more about this and other courses we offer.

Dentistry represents a unique facet of the work of the NHS, with around 8,000 dental practices across the UK - funded and supported quite separately from the rest of the NHS. The majority of the population use NHS services so it has a wide reach and those that are involved in this specialist area of commissioning are key partners and stakeholders in our research.

We work closely with key stakeholders such as Public Health England and NHS England to ensure that our services can quickly adopt new techniques and that decisions are made with the best knowledge and direction.

Unlike much of the rest of health, the role of the pharmaceutical industry in dentistry is relatively limited given the surgical nature of much of our work.  However, a wide range of devices and consumer healthcare products have an important role to play in improving oral health. We are developing a close relationship with the wider dental industry with a view to facilitating both highly focused product evaluation research and wider scale population research.

Oral health is also an important component of general health with strong links between oral and systemic disease. Other practitioners in health care are key partners including general practitioners, pharmacists and various medical and surgical specialties.

Royal College of Surgeons (RCS)

The Oral and Dental Health Specialty also has productive relationships with the RCS through the Faculty of Dental Practitioners and the Faculty of General Dental Practice. Find out more about the RCS.

The NIHR provides the support and facilities the NHS needs for first-class research by funding a range of infrastructure.

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), partnerships between England’s leading NHS organisations and universities, conduct translational research to transform scientific breakthroughs into life-saving treatments. The following BRCs undertakes research in oral and dental health:

Work with our infrastructure

All of the NIHR facilities and centres are opening to working with the public, charities, industry and other partners. If you are interested in collaborating with the NIHR please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research infrastructure:

Our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (National Specialty Leads) can advise on delivering your oral and dental health study in the NHS.

Professor Sue Pavitt

Professor Sue Pavitt is the NIHR Clinical Research Network National Specialty Lead for Oral and Dental Health.


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