BACKGROUND: The bulk of service delivery in dentistry is delivered by general dental practitioners, when a large proportion of patients who attend regularly are asymptomatic and do not require treatment. This represents a substantial and unnecessary cost, given that it is possible to delegate a range of tasks to dental care professionals, who are a less expensive resource. Screening for the common dental diseases by dental care professionals has the potential to release general dental practitioner's time and increase the capacity to care for those who don't currently access services. The aim of this study is to compare the diagnostic test accuracy of dental care professionals when screening for dental caries and periodontal disease in asymptomatic adults aged eighteen years of age.
METHODS/DESIGN: Ten dental practices across the North-West of England will take part in a diagnostic test accuracy study with 200 consecutive patients in each practice. The dental care professionals will act as the index test and the general dental practitioner will act as the reference test. Consenting asymptomatic patients will enter the study and see either the dental care professionals or general dental practitioner first to remove order effects. Both sets of clinicians will make an assessment of dental caries and periodontal disease and enter their decisions on a record sheet for each participant. The primary outcome measure is the diagnostic test accuracy of the dental care professionals and sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive values will be reported. A number of clinical factors will be assessed for confounding.
DISCUSSION: The results of this study will determine whether dental care professionals can screen for the two most prevalent oral diseases. This will inform the literature and is apposite given the recent policy change in the United Kingdom towards direct access.