Background and objective: Screening and preventive interventions by primary care providers could improve outcomes related to early childhood caries. The objective of this study was to update the 2004 US Preventive Services Task Force systematic review on prevention of caries in children younger than 5 years of age.
Methods: Searching Medline and the Cochrane Library (through March 2013) and reference lists, we included trials and controlled observational studies on the effectiveness and harms of screening and treatments. One author extracted study characteristics and results, which were checked for accuracy by a second author. Two authors independently assessed study quality.
Results: No study evaluated effects of screening by primary care providers on clinical outcomes. One good-quality cohort study found pediatrician examination associated with a sensitivity of 0.76 for identifying a child with cavities. No new trials evaluated oral fluoride supplementation. Three new randomized trials were consistent with previous studies in finding fluoride varnish more effective than no varnish (reduction in caries increment 18% to 59%). Three trials of xylitol were inconclusive regarding effects on caries. New observational studies were consistent with previous evidence showing an association between early childhood fluoride use and enamel fluorosis. Evidence on the accuracy of risk prediction instruments in primary care settings is not available.
Conclusions: There is no direct evidence that screening by primary care clinicians reduces early childhood caries. Evidence previously reviewed by the US Preventive Services Task Force found oral fluoride supplementation effective at reducing caries incidence, and new evidence supports the effectiveness of fluoride varnish in higher-risk children.
Keywords: Dental caries; children; counseling; education; fluoride; fluorosis; prevention; screening; treatment; xylitol.