People working in a dental lab setting, with people at work stations around the room

Case Western Reserve dental school researchers awarded $4.2 million to study seniors’ oral health

The idea is to develop a standard of care for older adults

A team of researchers from the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University will use a $4.2 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study tooth-decay treatments in older adults.

The goal: to use what they learn to adopt a more effective standard for treating senior citizens with cavities. Tooth decay often goes untreated in older adults because of worries about the cost, lack of transportation to make appointments and other medical concerns, said Suchitra Nelson, professor of community dentistry and assistant dean of clinical and translational research at the dental school.

Nelson and her team will examine if two treatments are comparatively effective: a simple medical treatment of topical silver fluoride or a less-complicated dental filling that doesn’t require a drill or fluoride.

headshot of Suchitra Nelson
Suchitra Nelson

“We want to adopt a standard of care for addressing cavities in older adults,” said Nelson, the project’s principal investigator. “We want to reduce oral-health disparities by determining the most effective, efficient and patient-centered treatments—delivered in community-based or clinical settings.”

Nelson said she and her research team have worked since 2012 to address oral issues for older adults, particularly low-income residents and minorities, who tend to have higher rates of untreated tooth decay.

“This fits in so nicely with all the other oral health disparities work that we’re doing here at the dental school,” she said.

PCORI selected to fund the study through a highly competitive review process in which patients, clinicians and other stakeholders joined clinical scientists to evaluate the proposals.

“This project was selected, not only for its scientific merit and commitment to engaging patients and other stakeholders, but also for its potential to fill an important gap in our health knowledge and give people information to help them weigh the effectiveness of their care options,” PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby said. “We look forward to following the study’s progress and working with Dr. Nelson to share the results.”

For more information, contact Colin McEwen at