Building Collaborative Research Infrastructure to Reduce Oral Health Disparities among Low Income Older Adults
Project Good Oral Health – NIDCR ARRA Grant#RC4 DE021324; PI’s Susan Reisine, Ph.D., Jean Schensul, Ph.D.
The Institute for Community Research (ICR) and the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine (SDM) received an ARRA research infrastructure grant from NIDCR (1 RC4 DE021324, 2010 – 2013) to develop research infrastructure to address oral health disparities among older adults and adults with disabilities living in subsidized housing in central Connecticut. Working with the North Central Area Agency on Aging, we identified 22 buildings in Central Connecticut that could be approached to assess their interest in oral health research and intervention. We also created an Oral Health Research Strategic Alliance (OHRSA) at the state level to discuss and promote new directions in oral health research with older adults. Developing infrastructure that advocates for and supports community based oral health research and intervention designed to reach these populations, and educational infrastructure to develop community based oral health research interest in faculty and students should help to reduce inequalities in dental treatment access and oral health status among lower income and minority community dwelling adults. The goals of the project were to:
- Build relationships with subsidized housing buildings in central Connecticut to engage in discussions about future oral health related research and education and potential training possibilities for dental and medical students and faculty
- Create a strategic alliance of representatives from the UCONN School of Dental Medicine, the Institute for Community Research and the North Central Area Agency on aging, along with community organizations serving older adults, including those interested in or already conducting research; research organizations including the Institute for Community Research, Connecticut state agencies and alliances advocating for and serving older adults, and academic institutions with an interest in community based oral health programs and research for older adults.
- To support local efforts to collect data on geriatric oral health and service barriers
- Build and disseminate curriculum to support partnership research on oral health of low income and minority older adults
- Build a community based research agenda for oral health research with vulnerable populations.
Residents of eight buildings collaborated in the development of oral health education materials. Working with a geriatric dentist and oral health educator, Ruth Goldblatt, DDS, and project staff, residents generated their own set of Frequently Asked Questions and responses in English and Spanish. A dental student, Chelsea Murphy who was also an artist, drew images related to both the English and Spanish FAQs and adapted them with feedback from residents. With resident input, we developed an approach to intervention that combined community education events (fairs), with a face to face oral health intervention. This formed the basis for a pilot intervention study submitted to NIDCR and approved for funding in 2011.
The study also created the Oral Health Research Strategic Alliance (OHRSA), with representatives from state agencies, university departments, community research institutes, clinical membership organizations and practices, low income senior housing populations, and agencies serving older low income adults in central Connecticut. Meeting approximately every four months to discuss research, policies and regulatory action and advocacy efforts to promote oral health of CT’s older adults it became clear there was significant overlapped with the CT Department of Public Health Task Force on Oral Health for Older Adults. In September 2013 the two organizations merged to become the Oral Health for Older Adults Consortium, with two co-chairs chosen from the CT DPH Office of Oral Health and Project Good Oral Health. The result was one wide-ranging network of oral health researchers, providers, advocates and policymakers focused on increasing public awareness of the unmet oral health needs of older adults, and people with disabilities, and to develop programs to assist in meeting those needs.