Screening, Referral, Behavioral Counseling, and Preventive Interventions for Oral Health in Children and Adolescents Aged 5 to 17 Years: A Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2023 Nov 7;330(17):1674-1686. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.20435.


Importance: Dental caries is common in children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 years and potentially amenable to primary care screening and prevention.

Objective: To systematically review the evidence on primary care screening and prevention of dental caries in children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 years to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (to October 3, 2022); surveillance through July 21, 2023.

Study selection: Diagnostic accuracy of primary care screening instruments and oral examination; randomized and nonrandomized trials of screening and preventive interventions and systematic reviews of such studies; cohort studies on primary care oral health screening and preventive intervention harms.

Data extraction and synthesis: One investigator abstracted data; a second checked accuracy. Two investigators independently rated study quality. Random-effects meta-analysis was performed for fluoride supplements and xylitol; for other preventive interventions, pooled estimates were used from good-quality systematic reviews.

Main outcomes and measures: Dental caries, morbidity, functional status, quality of life, harms; diagnostic test accuracy.

Results: Three systematic reviews (total 20 684 participants) and 19 randomized clinical trials, 3 nonrandomized trials, and 1 observational study (total 15 026 participants) were included. No study compared screening vs no screening. When administered by dental professionals or in school settings, fluoride supplements compared with placebo or no intervention were associated with decreased change from baseline in the number of decayed, missing, or filled permanent teeth (DMFT index) or decayed or filled permanent teeth (DFT index) (mean difference, -0.73 [95% CI, -1.30 to -0.19]) at 1.5 to 3 years (6 trials; n = 1395). Fluoride gels were associated with a DMFT- or DFT-prevented fraction of 0.18 (95% CI, 0.09-0.27) at outcomes closest to 3 years (4 trials; n = 1525), fluoride varnish was associated with a DMFT- or DFT-prevented fraction of 0.44 (95% CI, 0.11-0.76) at 1 to 4.5 years (5 trials; n = 3902), and resin-based sealants were associated with decreased risk of carious first molars (odds ratio, 0.21 [95% CI, 0.16-0.28]) at 48 to 54 months (4 trials; n = 440). No trial evaluated primary care counseling or dental referral. Evidence on screening accuracy, silver diamine fluoride, xylitol, and harms was very limited, although serious harms were not reported.

Conclusions and relevance: Administration of fluoride supplements, fluoride gels, varnish, and sealants in dental or school settings improved caries outcomes. Research is needed on the effectiveness of oral health preventive interventions in primary care settings and to determine the benefits and harms of screening.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cariostatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Cariostatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Counseling
  • Dental Caries* / diagnosis
  • Dental Caries* / prevention & control
  • Dental Caries* / therapy
  • Fluorides / administration & dosage
  • Fluorides / therapeutic use
  • Gels
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Oral Health*
  • Preventive Dentistry*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Quality of Life
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Xylitol / administration & dosage
  • Xylitol / therapeutic use


  • Fluorides
  • Gels
  • Xylitol
  • Cariostatic Agents