Bulletin of Dental Education

NYU Dental Researcher Awarded $3.7 Million NIH Grant to Study How Older Adults Access Oral Health Care in Underserved Urban Communities

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Mary E. Northridge, Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at the New York University College of Dentistry, has been awarded a five-year, $3.7 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to analyze how Hispanic and African American older adults living in underserved urban communities in New York City overcome barriers to accessing oral health care services.

The research will involve recent systems science methodological developments enabled by computational advances, which have spurred a body of research on the effects of multiple scales and dimensions on health behaviors and outcomes using sophisticated computer modeling to assist in analyzing the data. 

“Systems science is an approach which includes data from the micro-scale of the mouth, to the interpersonal scale of social networking in the community, to the societal scale, involving issues such as the lack of Medicare coverage for routine dental exams. The systems science approach to framing the problem of dental health among disadvantaged urban older adults is a way of visualizing the problem,” says Dr. Northridge. 

To this end, Dr. Northridge, who has developed the study protocol along with her co-principal investigators Carol Kunzel, Ph.D., and Sara S. Metcalf, Ph.D., assembled a group of social and systems scientists to tackle the research as a team. Using system dynamics modeling, the investigators seek to advance research around the oral health of medically- and dentally-underserved Hispanic and African American older adults in a New York City oral health outreach initiative sponsored by the Eldersmile Program of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. 

The researchers have two aims: 1) to examine a broad array of issues related to access to care, including how people in the community tap into social networks to find information on social services in general and dental care in particular; how friends and family support one another to overcome obstacles to accessing care; attitudes towards dentists and oral health care; past experiences with clinic-based dental programs; and awareness of the Eldersmile program; and 2) to ask participants about attitudes towards being screened for hypertension and diabetes at a dental visit. 


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