## Abstract

BACKGROUND In the usual regression setting one regression line is computed for a whole data set. In a more complex situation, each person may be observed for example at several points in time and thus a regression line might be calculated for each person. Additional complexities, such as various forms of errors in covariables may make a straightforward statistical evaluation difficult or even impossible. OBJECTIVE AND METHOD During recent years methods have been developed allowing convenient analysis of problems where the data and the corresponding models show these and many other forms of complexity. The methodology makes use of a Bayesian approach and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) simulations. The methods allow the construction of increasingly elaborate models by building them up from local sub-models. The essential structure of the models can be represented visually by directed acyclic graphs (DAG). This attractive property allows communication and discussion of the essential structure and the substantial meaning of a complex model without needing algebra. EXAMPLE After presentation of the statistical methods an example from dentistry is presented in order to demonstrate their application and use. The dataset of the example had a complex structure; each of a set of children was followed up over several years. The number of new fillings in permanent teeth had been recorded at several ages. The dependent variables were markedly different from the normal distribution and could not be transformed to normality. In addition, explanatory variables were assumed to be measured with different forms of error. Illustration of how the corresponding models can be estimated conveniently via MCMC simulation, in particular, 'Gibbs sampling', using the freely available software BUGS is presented. In addition, how the measurement error may influence the estimates of the corresponding coefficients is explored. It is demonstrated that the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable may be markedly underestimated if the measurement error is not taken into account ('regression dilution bias'). CONCLUSION Markov chain Monte Carlo methods may be of great value to dentists in allowing analysis of data sets which exhibit a wide range of different forms of complexity.