Alice M. Horowitz, RDH, MA, PhD, is a research associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland-College Park. As a health educator researcher, her career focus has been on dental caries primary prevention and closing the gap between what researchers know about evidence-based disease prevention and what practitioners do. Horowitz’s research efforts have been dedicated to educating the public, providers, and policy makers on how to prevent caries. In the past few decades, her research has examined dental caries prevention through a health literacy lens, looking at health care providers’ and low-income pregnant women’s knowledge, understanding, and behaviors relating to caries prevention.
Horowitz’s interest in dental caries prevention stems from her work at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Institute, where she organized two National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conferences on caries prevention and developed a tool kit to implement community-based caries prevention regimens. Her research in health literacy focuses on closing the dental disparities gap in the United States. For the past 7 years, Horowitz has been a principal investigator on grants whose objectives were to conduct a statewide assessment of oral health literacy in connection with the prevention of dental caries. The findings are being used to inform state policy to reduce dental caries in young children.
What questions do you hope to see answered in oral health research of the future?
There are many questions I would like to see addressed in oral health research. However, the more important question is how do we get research findings applied by appropriate user groups? We know how to prevent dental caries. Yet, this disease remains the most common childhood disease in the US. The appropriate use of fluorides and pit and fissure sealants is our best weapon against caries, yet too few dental providers apply dental sealants. And overall, the general public does not understand that community water fluoridation is a safe and effective public health approach to prevent decay. Another example is that now we have a vaccine to prevent five cancers caused by the humanpapilloma virus (HPV). Guardasil 9 is recommended for males and females ages 9 to 47. Yet, the uptake of this preventive regimen is very low. Further, most health providers are not advocating its use, including dental providers. How do we get dental providers involved in promoting HPV vaccines?
Additionally, ample evidence demonstrates that dental therapists are well-qualified to provide the dental care they are trained to do. Despite their use in most civilized countries, they are not accepted by many American dentists. Alaska and Minnesota are the current exceptions, with other states also implementing or considering this approach to providing much needed care to those who need it most. Dental therapists could reduce oral health disparities.
While there will always be additional research that needs to be done, we should likely focus on applying research findings that are available that will reduce the dental disease burden on our citizens.