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Methodological characteristics and treatment effect sizes in oral health randomised controlled trials: Is there a relationship?

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  • Introduction It is fundamental that randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are properly conducted in order to reach well-supported conclusions. However, there is emerging evidence that RCTs are subject to biases which can overestimate or underestimate the true treatment effect, due to flaws in the study design characteristics of such trials. The extent to which this holds true in oral health RCTs, which have some unique design characteristics compared to RCTs in other health fields, is unclear. As such, we aim to examine the empirical evidence quantifying the extent of bias associated with methodological and non-methodological characteristics in oral health RCTs. Methods and analysis We plan to perform a meta-epidemiological study, where a sample size of 60 meta-analyses (MAs) including approximately 600 RCTs will be selected. The MAs will be randomly obtained from the Oral Health Database of Systematic Reviews using a random number table; and will be considered for inclusion if they include a minimum of five RCTs, and examine a therapeutic intervention related to one of the recognised dental specialties. RCTs identified in selected MAs will be subsequently included if their study design includes a comparison between an intervention group and a placebo group or another intervention group. Data will be extracted from selected trials included in MAs based on a number of methodological and non-methodological characteristics. Moreover, the risk of bias will be assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool. Effect size estimates and measures of variability for the main outcome will be extracted from each RCT included in selected MAs, and a two-level analysis will be conducted using a meta-meta-analytic approach with a random effects model to allow for intra-MA and inter-MA heterogeneity. Ethics and dissemination The intended audiences of the findings will include dental clinicians, oral health researchers, policymakers and graduate students. The aforementioned will be introduced to the findings through workshops, seminars, round table discussions and targeted individual meetings. Other opportunities for knowledge transfer will be pursued such as key dental conferences. Finally, the results will be published as a scientific report in a dental peer-reviewed journal.

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    This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 3.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial.
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    • Saltaji, H., Armijo-Olivo, S.,Cummings, G., Amin, M., & Flores-Mir, C. (2014). Methodological characteristics and treatment effect sizes in oral health randomised controlled trials: Is there a relationship? Protocol for a meta-epidemiological study. BMJ Open, 4(2).