Behavioural intervention to promote the uptake of planned care in urgent dental care attenders: study protocol for the RETURN randomised controlled trial

R. Harris (Lead / Corresponding author), V. Lowers, C. Hulme, G. Burnside, A. Best, J. E. Clarkson, R. Cooke, M. Van Der Zande, R. Maitland

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Background: People with disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to visit the dentist for planned care, even though they have disproportionately poorer oral health. They are correspondingly more likely to experience dental problems and use urgent dental care, general practices and Accident and Emergency departments, which not only makes meeting their needs expensive, but, since these services often rely on prescriptions rather than addressing the clinical cause, can contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

Methods: The RETURN intervention has been developed with substantial community co-production, to be delivered opportunistically in urgent dental care settings. This brief intervention is delivered by dental nurses and involves material relevant to the 'in-group' targeted. The material includes booklets relating to barriers to planned dental visiting with corresponding short video clips featuring local people and including a modelling element. Dental nurses are trained to have supportive and non-judgemental conversations, assisting patients to set personal goals and action plans, which are reinforced in a follow-up text within a few weeks. A randomised controlled trial will be undertaken in 3 types of sites: dental practices delivering urgent care (a) within working hours, (b) out of hours, and (c) in a Dental Hospital. The trial will recruit 1180 adult urgent dental care users over 12 months, who have not visited a dentist for a planned care appointment for 2 years or more and do not have a dentist who they visit for routine care. It aims to investigate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the intervention and to explore whether the intervention has different effects across the socio-economic gradient. Participants will be followed up at 6, 12 and 18 months after randomisation. Co-primary outcomes are attendance at a dental practice for planned care within 12 months and self-reported oral health-related quality of life at 12 months.

Discussion: This is a pragmatic trial, evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention under the usual condition in which it might be applied. Since dental practices work as independent contractors to the NHS, this brings implementation and fidelity challenges which will be explored and described in embedded qualitative work.

Trial Registration: ISRCTN registry identifier ISRCTN84666712. Registered 12/04/2021.

Original languageEnglish
Article number475
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2022


  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Dental Care
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


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