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How population-level data linkage might impact on dental research


Linda Slack-Smith, Oral Epidemiology, School of Dentistry M512, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

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There is the potential for substantial gains in dental epidemiology with increasing use of population-level data and data linkage. The advantage of population record linkage, from an epidemiological perspective, is that it is not biased and no-one is excluded. This has important implications for human rights because generally the people who are excluded from studies or do not participate are the most marginalized. There are a number of places in the world that have high-quality population record linkage in the area of health including Oxford, Aberdeen, Rochester, Manitoba and Scandinavia. In Western Australia, there is a unique set of databases on the entire population, which includes detailed information on all births, deaths and hospital admissions since 1980, these are linkable with many other data sets. We can now link birth and hospital admissions with population databases for characteristics such as intellectual disability and birth defects. It is even possible to link Commonwealth data with State data. It is now possible to link birth defects data and midwives data with data from the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as a form of pharmacovigilance, to detect potential associations between medicine use in pregnancy and birth defects such as cleft lip and palate. Data linkage is increasingly available in Australia, with other states setting up systems similar to Western Australia and may offer greater insight into oral health.