A study with a focus on prevention rather than treatment looks set to transform the way in which dentistry is delivered in the NHS.
The £1.7 million trial will investigate if a prevention package delivered by dentists in practice can prevent tooth decay in children.
The trial will test the cost effectiveness of fluoride varnish and family-strength fluoride toothpaste provided in general practice twice a year to help prevent decay.
The outcomes could inform the development of the NHS dental services and interventions across the UK.
The Northern Ireland Caries Prevention in Practice Trial (NIC-PIP) is a three-year multi-collaborative trial taking place in Northern Ireland and involving a team of dental experts, led by Professor Martin Tickle of the Oral Health Unit (OHU) at The University of Manchester.
A spokesperson explained: ‘The OHU has an impressive track record of delivering high profile, policy relevant dental research and was selected to run this trial following an application to an open call which saw the dental research unit competing with all other areas of health and health care research.
Professor Tickle added: ‘This is hugely significant for the OHU, dental research and the health service in Northern Ireland as we were competing with all other areas of health and health care research. It shows the strength of our research reputation and the value of this study which has such important potential outcomes for the future of dentistry.’
Recent studies have shown that prevention of decay in the primary teeth in NHS general dental practice is not very effective and that over a three-year period 25% of two-to-three year olds registered with a dentist develop tooth decay.
Northern Ireland has a particular problem as approximately 60% of five year olds have tooth decay.
The trial will involve approximately 2,000 children at 40 general dental practices and 10 community dental services clinics in Northern Ireland.
Children will be recruited at two-to-four years and followed up for a three-year period.
In England, all NHS GDPs have been sent the Delivering Better Oral Health: an Evidence Based Toolkit which identifies best evidence for preventive care but research has yet to show whether these interventions are cost effective when used in every day NHS practice.
Professor Tickle said, ‘The aim of the trial is to see if we can keep a larger proportion of children free of decay by using a fluoride varnish and toothpaste. Hopefully the findings will help to inform future policy on children’s dental health and focus on proactively preventing tooth decay rather than treating the disease once it has started’.
If the interventions in this trial are effective at reducing costs and preventing caries it will have a significant influence on how dentistry is provided for young children nationally and internationally.