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Dental epidemiology and public health

Population and dental health services research

In Dental Epidemiology, we study the development of the common oral conditions in the New Zealand population. In Dental Health Services Research, we look at how effectively dental health systems work for New Zealanders.

Programme leader:
Professor W. Murray Thomson

Dental epidemiological research

In this work we study the occurrence, determinants, and natural history of the common oral conditions.  We employ a number of approaches, most notably the prospective cohort study and the cross-sectional survey.

Multidisciplinary collaboration has proven to be a very fruitful way of doing our work.  It combines the different strengths, and knowledge bases of a number of researchers, not only here at Otago, but also around the world.

Life-course research in oral health: the Dunedin Study

This is prospective observational research into the natural history of oral health and disease in a representative birth cohort now in adulthood. This study is providing unprecedented information on the natural history of oral health and disease.

The funded aims of the dental research component for age 38 were to:

  • Document the natural history of oral health and disease from childhood through to early midlife
  • Determine the nature of the relationship of those conditions and associated socioeconomic status inequalities with antecedent characteristics and exposures
  • Investigate the relation between chronic periodontitis and cardiovascular risk
  • Identify gene-byenvironment associations in oral health and disease

In the age-38 assessments, 95% of the surviving cohort were assessed. We have now obtained funding to conduct the age-45 assessments, and planning for that phase of the study is now underway.

Our work in this area continues to attract international attention and to be published in the top international journals:
Selected Dunedin Study epidemiological research publications
Selected dental epidemiological research publications

Dental health services research

Our work is concerned with how the dental healthcare system works, and the extent to which users are benefiting from it. Key activities are measuring oral health outcomes, and increasing understanding of how, and why people use (or do not use) dental services.

Our group has played an important role in the development, and epidemiological validation, of new global measures for child oral-health-related quality of life.  We also conduct dental workforce research. Alongside research colleagues in Japan and China we are one of only three World Health Organization Collaborating Centres (in oral health), in the Western Pacific region.

Selected dental health services publications