Areas of Expertise Overview

Organized into five research clusters, our programs in basic sciences, clinical sciences and social and behavioral sciences and public health help bring current research into our classrooms, clinics and dental practices statewide. The research clusters are organized by research topic across traditional department and division boundaries. Thus, the clusters offer a forum of cross-disciplinary research and scholarship to address the most vexing problems in oral and craniofacial health research and related areas.

—From Interim Associate Dean for Research, David Bereiter

Biomaterials and Biomechanics

The School of Dentistry has achieved an international reputation for its work in the development and testing of dental and dental-related materials. The centerpiece of this cluster is the Minnesota Dental Research Center for Biomaterials and Biomechanics (MDRCBB), which strives to be a leader in the development of novel techniques for the characterization and modeling of the performance of dental biomaterials. Unique to this center is the “artificial mouth,” an automated chewing machine that can be programmed to precisely reproduce the chewing cycle. Using this instrument, investigators can put newly designed restorative materials through years of simulated use in a fraction of the time it would take in a clinical testing experiment. It can evaluate materials wear by opposing similar or dissimilar materials. The Center’s research portfolio has been significantly diversified in recent years with the addition of orthodontic bracket testing, food texture analysis and materials testing in the energy sector.

Oral Health Disparities and Community Health

Research projects in this area are focused on decreasing parental risk-related behaviors for early childhood caries and dentist’s attitudes towards the expanding role of non-dentists. Additional research in behavioral sciences measures patient’s perception of effects of dental intervention, which will allow effects from all oral interventions to become comparable, aiding dentists and patients in their evaluation of treatment. The school maintains a network of outreach clinics that serve patients in rural and underserved communities; increased collaborations are forming between SOD faculty and the School of Public Health. Opportunities for increased research in this area are due to collaborations with HealthPartners of Minnesota and the recently awarded National Dental Practice Based Research Network, and the addition of the Dental Therapy program with a focus on underserved populations.

Orofacial Pain and Neuroscience

For more than three decades, our faculty have been studying pain from both a basic science and clinical perspective. Our investigators have international reputations for their work in chronic pain and cancer-induced pain. They have been successful in explaining some of the mechanisms that trigger the pain response and in testing the effectiveness of various agents in modulating patients’ pain. These researchers collaborate with other pain researchers on our campus and across the. Current projects in this area include a clinical study of the longitudinal impact of TMJ disc displacement and osteoarthritis on patient-reported outcomes of jaw pain, jaw functional limitations and disability; the role of estrogen status and psychological stress in TMJ nociception and the development of persistent jaw pain; and studies on pain resulting from cancer.