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Raul I. Garcia - April 2012

Raul I. Garcia, D.M.D., is professor and chair, Department of Health Policy and Health Services Research at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. He is also the director of the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities, established at Boston University in 2001 and supported by the National Institutes of Health. In addition, he has investigated the role that oral conditions may play as risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other systemic health outcomes, and how oral conditions may affect health-related quality of life.

In the area of health policy, his department at Boston University has implemented new programs to enhance access to oral health care by under-served populations and to recruit students from under-represented groups to enter the oral health professions. Major research interests are in the areas of health services research and oral epidemiology, with experience in and current funding on (a) causes and consequences of oral health disparities, and interventions to eliminate oral health disparities; (b) relationship of oral conditions to systemic disease and health-related quality of life; and (c) longitudinal studies of oral health in diverse populations and the analysis of treatment outcomes. The work has included conduct of randomized clinical trials, observational studies, and secondary analyses of large-scale, national and complex research-derived as well administrative datasets. 

Garcia is a 1981 graduate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, where he received the D.M.D. degree summa cum laude.  He completed his specialty training in periodontology in 1984, and went on to receive a Master of Medical Sciences degree from Harvard in 1985. 

Garcia has been an AADR since 1976, and has served on several IADR committees and currently serves on the IADR Publications Committee.

How did you first get involved in AADR?

I joined AADR right before I started dental school. Between college and dental school I was working in a lab at the dental school at Harvard. Knowing that I was interested in going to dental school, my research mentor very strongly urged that I joined AADR. When I started dental school, I was a student member of AADR.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?

That has changed over time but initially my greatest benefit was getting access to the Journal of Dental Research at a reasonable cost and having lower registration costs to attend the meetings. However, at this point in my career, the value isn’t so much what I’m getting directly out of AADR. Instead, I find value in what I see the organization doing for dental research as an endeavor, and its importance in representing me and all individuals working in this area of science. Now I’m looking more at the importance I can play as a member in helping the organization achieve a lot of good for many people.

What are you currently researching?

One of the projects I’m working on is a major NIDCR-supported  randomized clinical trial that was launched a little over a year ago (Tooth Smart Healthy Start: Oral Health Advocates in Public Housing) that is targeting women who have young children who are living in Boston public housing developments. My colleagues,  Drs. Michelle Henshaw and Belinda Borrelli, are the RCT co-PIs. The goal is to see if the incidence of dental caries in their children can over a two-year period be reduced by a behavioral intervention. The behavioral intervention is a series of motivational interviewing sessions delivered over a two-year period targeting the mothers. The randomization is at the level of the site of the housing development. We are randomizing the actual housing development  so that all eligible mothers and children in one development would receive oral health assessments, information and instructions for oral health care, referrals for care and fluoride varnish for their children—whereas the mothers and children at the intervention site would receive all of that plus the motivational interviewing sessions. At full implementation,  1,830 mother/child dyads will have been enrolled in the study and we will be working in 26 separate Boston public housing developments. At the conclusion of the study, we will see whether the motivational interviewing really works when combined with fluoride varnish.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?

Cross collaboration has been essential to my career and I think that it is critical to the future health of research in this area. My own work has involved having to understand the basic molecular pathophysiologic mechanisms of periodontal disease progression, but it also involves the population level work of epidemiologists and interacting with members of the IADR Periodontal Research Group and Behavioral, Epidemiologic and Health Services Research Group. The scientific sessions that those groups present at the AADR meetings have been critical to furthering my knowledge and it’s vital to what I do on a daily basis. 

Where do you feel the research community would be without AADR’s influence?

AADR has been instrumental in making sure that there has been funding and support for science in this area. I think that AADR has tremendously enhanced the quality of scientific work because of the way it brings together people as an organization through its Annual Meetings, Scientific Groups, the JDR and other publications. I also believe that the AADR staff has given extraordinary strength, value and vitality to the organization.

What’s a message you want to give to future dental researchers?
In general the message is the future is what you make of it, despite whatever challenges one may face in regards to funding or job opportunities. Good science will get supported and good science needs to get done, not just for its own sake. It’s essential that we create knowledge, and translate and disseminate it to improve the health of people. If the new generations don’t complete the work to get new knowledge and translate it into action, people’s health is not going to improve to the extent that it can and should. The role of the AADR as a convener of like-minded souls is essential and the power of that fellowship of scientists who are working toward that common good is something in which future dental researchers should partake.

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