Areas of Expertise
Organized into six 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.
Bone Biology and Craniofacial Development
Research in this cluster ranges from basic bone biology to periodontal disease and dental implants. Investigators collaborate to study the mechanisms of cellar differentiation responsible for bone resorption and deposition. With a more complete understanding of these processes, they are working to reduce the rate of bone loss and possibly assist in restoring structures to their premorbid condition. Using genetically modified animals, these researchers are able to induce specific defects in developing structures of the orofacial region and are beginning to construct models to explain the roles individual genes play in the formation of these structures. This research on bone biology has implications for dental implants, periodontal health, oral pathology, oral surgery, endodontics, and orthodontics. Research projects investigate the role of a bone morphogenetic protein-binding protein in skeletal development and remodeling; inhibitory mechanisms in differentiation of osteoblasts; periodontal disease as a risk factor for osteonecrosis of the jaw; and characterization of embryonic stem cells with potential to differentiate and form bone in vivo. Research in the area of orthodontics investigates the role of masticatory load and data analysis in 3-D digital imaging.
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.
Oral Infections and Cancer
Caries and other oral infections are key problems facing dental practitioners. Accordingly, research in this area has a long tradition at the School of Dentistry. Current research projects focus on how to make the oral mucosa more resistant to invasive oral pathogens by increased production of normal antimicrobial effector molecules in oral mucosal epithelial cells; design of antimicrobial peptides based on salivary host-defense proteins; and studies on the interaction between oral biofilms and dental resin with the goal to increase the service life of dental resin composite restorations. Virology has long been a signature program of the school of dentistry. With over 40 years of continuous NIH funding to study how bacterial viruses invade healthy cells, replicate, release themselves into the environment via promotion of host bacterial lysis, researchers in the School of Dentistry have established themselves as major contributors to the field. They have helped unravel many of the mysteries associated with this infectious process. Their discoveries have suggested new approaches to developing anti-viral drugs and other therapies to treat patients.
Periodontal disease, oral cancer, Sjögren’s syndrome and their systemic implications are the core of this research cluster. Faculty in the school of dentistry study the differential responses of commensal bacteria and pathogens using both cell culture and in vivo models. Several clinical studies investigate the role of periodontal disease in systemic conditions, including low birth weight, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and osteonecrosis of the jaw. Other projects seek to develop novel salivary diagnostic tests for oral cancer and Sjögren’s syndrome.
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.