The orthodontic department at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) is launching a national practice-based research network (PBRN) for orthodontics. A PBRN uses the experience of private-practice clinicians to help design and conduct research studies of direct clinical relevance to their offices. A PBRN has the potential to enroll many patients in a study in a short time period, which permits efficient study of rare events, such as bracket failure. The resulting data will then be compiled and analyzed by the UTHSCSA.

“An important advantage of our research network is the ability to answer questions in a timely manner using large numbers of patients,” says John D. Rugh, DDS, chair of the orthodontic department at UTHSCSA. “For example, in our first study, we were able to examine the bonding of 26,000 teeth in a 2-week period. Completing such a study in a university laboratory would take months, or even years, and even then may not be relevant to a private-practice setting.”

In comparison to traditional university-based research, PBRN results have immediate clinical applicability. Orthodontists in the program have a broader range of skills and experience levels that are more representative of the typical orthodontic practice. In addition, the program enrolls patients who are more representative of private practices.

Faculty and orthodontic residents involved with the national PBRN have developed potential projects on a number of topics, including patient compliance, managing white-spot lesions, the Hawthorne effect on oral hygiene, and the effectiveness of telephone reminders. Study coordinators will also solicit ideas from participating orthodontists.