Caren M. Barnes, RDH, MS

Caren M. Barnes, RDH, MS, is a professor in the Department of Dental Hygiene, and coordinator of clinical research at the Cruzan Center for Dental Research, both at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Dentistry, Lincoln. She has been practicing, teaching, and conducting research in dental hygiene for more than 35 years and has been recognized for professional excellence with honors that include the International Association for Dental Research/Colgate Oral Health Research Award and the 2010 University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Dental Hygiene. She has also served as the national president of Sigma Phi Alpha. Barnes has been published in more than 150 journals, abstracts, and chapters and she is the co-author of the 5th edition of Prentice Hall Health Question and Answer Review of Dental Hygiene. She is a member of Dimensions’ Editorial Advisory Board.

How did you get started in the field of research?

Like most research, my entry into the field started with a question. I was teaching at Texas Woman’s University in 1977 when I heard about a new device called Prophy Jet. I wanted to find out more about what seemed like a fascinating tool. At the time it was owned by a company called Dentron. I chased down the company’s only sales representative and met her in the parking lot of a downtown hotel. I saw the Prophy Jet for the very first time and decided I wanted to conduct research on it. I did the research on the Prophy Jet then and 40 years later I am still actively conducting research on air polishing and other types of polishing of teeth and restorations, as well as other clinical research.

What is the most interesting research project on which you have worked?

Whatever I am working on at the moment is the most interesting. I couldn’t pick one over another. I love the protocol and design development of research, how we’re going to do it, and figuring out the nuances to keep variables from creeping in that would affect the outcome. I love the camaraderie of working with my colleagues and friends from all over the United States and Europe. I love working with clinical trials and working in the lab. I have embraced all of my research projects and they’re all my favorites. That might sound corny but it’s the truth.

What do you hope to accomplish in your future research?

What I have always tried to accomplish in my work: to be able to translate the clinical research I’ve done to dental hygienists in practice to make their lives better and the lives of their patients better. I want to make treatments easier or better in some way and also to help companies develop products to help dental hygienists and, ultimately, patients.

What advice would you give to dental hygienists who are just beginning their careers?

I would encourage dental hygienists to be lifelong learners, to be open minded, and to consider other career opportunities within dental hygiene. Stellar dental hygienists are needed in research, education, private practice, and public health. Some dental hygienists have shared with me that they are intimidated about conducting research. They should not be! They need to seek out mentors. I have found throughout my life that people are more than willing to help you get started or mentor you along the way. In turn, I try to find ways to return the kindness and support people have given me along the way.