As an archive of peer-reviewed research, the AJO-DO is committed to accepting and publishing investigations of the highest quality. The lowest quality of evidence consists of expert opinion, and the highest quality evidence consists of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Although most systematic reviews evaluate the best available observational studies, ideally, a systematic review summarizes the outcomes of randomized controlled trials.
One major challenge is obtaining a sufficient number of randomized subjects. Although a sample size calculation will determine the appropriate number of subjects necessary to provide adequate statistical power, enrolling enough subjects in an RCT can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there is a solution.
In 2005, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) created and funded a 7-year grant to develop regional networks of dental practices that would participate in coordinated prospective research projects. This initiative was the beginning of what is now the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network (NDPBRN). Its purposes are (1) to serve as an investigative union of practicing dentists and academic scientists, (2) to allow practitioners to propose or participate in research studies that address day-to-day issues in oral health care, and (3) to expand the dental profession’s evidence base and further refine dental care. And the plan has worked.
The funding for these regional pilot networks ended last year. During their 7-year existence, over 1700 dental practitioners in more than 40 states were enrolled. Nearly 6% of these were orthodontic offices. The dental practitioners from the 3 networks collaborated with academicians at several universities to conduct 51 research studies that generated 87 journal articles ranging from preventive and restorative dentistry to pain management and the treatment of white spot lesions. This initial experiment was so successful that the NIDCR awarded an additional 7-year, $66.8 million grant to continue and expand the dental practice-based research network initiative.
The NDPBRN is headquartered at the School of Dentistry of the University of Alabama in Birmingham. It is the administrative hub that leads and oversees 6 smaller regional research sites throughout the U.S. It has money to spend on well-designed clinical trials, including orthodontic research projects performed in U.S.
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is acutely aware of the importance of high-quality evidence-based research and will take advantage of this opportunity to be an integral part of the NDPBRN and to facilitate the development of a national network of orthodontic offices that is ready and able to participate in practice-based research. To facilitate this objective, the AAO Board of Trustees established a Practice-Based Research Network Task Force. The Task Force will send a survey asking you to identify, suggest, and prioritize research questions of importance to private practitioners. After the results have been tabulated and the most common research themes identified, the Task Force will determine which research questions are appropriate for the orthodontic practice-based network.
The third step will be to identify academic institutions in the U.S. and Canada that would be willing to draft research proposals to be submitted to the NDPBRN. The fourth step will be to invite private practitioners to join the orthodontic practice-based network and help carry out these studies. We need to be ready to go when the projects are funded. Currently, fewer than 100 orthodontic offices have been approved to participate in the NDPBRN. We need more. You can help. When the Task Force invites orthodontists to enlist their offices in this worthwhile network, please step up and do your part. Help advance the quality of clinical research. Consider joining the orthodontic practice-based research network.