Health Policy

McKernan Awarded NIH Grant

Photo of McKernan overlaying picture of grants & applications binders

Dr. Susan McKernan, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry, UI College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics and a researcher in the Health Policy Research Program, was awarded a $300,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her project entitled, "Evaluation of Geographic Variation in Pediatric Preventive Dental Services."  

The study will examine how regional patterns in clinical dental practice affect dentists’ rates of providing preventive dental services to children at elevated risk for tooth decayand will look at the proportion of children treated by each dentist who received preventive dental services. Service patterns will be explored in the context of service areas - regional markets identifid by where the patients travel to receive care. The project aims are to:

  1. assess provider-level variation in the provision of preventive dental services,
  2. evaluate clinical practice variation within and across geographical regions, and
  3. identify factors associated with increased preventive dental service rates.

The long-term goal of the is to explore the mechanisms by which local clinical treatment patterns develop in order to identify modifiable factors that can be leveraged by educational interventions to increase use of science-based information by dentists. The long-term impact of these interventions would be to increase use of preventive dental services and reduce oral health disparities in high risk populations.

Said McKernan about the study, "Over half of low-income children have experienced tooth decay. Routine dental care that includes recommended preventive services like topical fluoride and dental sealants can prevent most tooth decay. However, low-income children who are at the greatest risk of developing cavities are the least likely to receive these services – even if they do see a dentist for routine care. In this study, we are trying to understand why some dentists don’t routinely provide recommended preventive services to their high-risk patients. The long-term goal is to reduce oral health disparities by encouraging dentists to shift treatment patterns towards prevention."

The R03 grant came through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), a division of the NIH. This study will address NIDCR's goal to overcome disparities in dental, oral, and craniofacial health. The dates of the study are July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021. Co-investigators on the project include Peter Damiano, Raymond Kuthy, and Michael Jones.