OBJECTIVES: Identify the words and phrases that authors used to describe time-to-event outcomes of dental treatments in patients.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A systematic handsearch of 50 dental journals with the highest Citation Index for 2008 identified articles reporting dental treatment with time-to-event statistics (included "case" articles, n = 95), without time-to-event statistics (active "control" articles, n = 91), and all other articles (passive "control" articles n = 6796). The included and active controls were read, identifying 43 English words across the title, aim and abstract, indicating that outcomes were studied over time. Once identified, these words were sought within the 6796 passive controls. Words were divided into six groups. Differences in use of words were analyzed with Pearson's chi-square across these six groups, and the three locations (title, aim, and abstract).
RESULTS: In the abstracts, included articles used group 1 (statistical technique) and group 2 (statistical terms) more frequently than the active and passive controls (group 1: 35%, 2%, 0.37%, P < 0.001 and group 2: 31%, 1%, 0.06%, P < 0.001). The included and active controls used group 3 (quasi-statistical) equally, but significantly more often than the passive controls (82%, 78%, 3.21%, P < 0.001). In the aims, use of target words was similar for included and active controls, but less frequent for groups 1-4 in the passive controls (P < 0.001). In the title, group 2 (statistical techniques) and groups 3-5 (outcomes) were similar for included and active controls, but groups 2 and 3 were less frequent in the passive controls (P < 0.001). Significantly more included articles used group 6 words (stating the study duration) (54%, 30%, P = 0.001).
CONCLUSION: All included articles used time-to-event analyses, but two-thirds did not include words to highlight this in the abstract. There is great variation in the words authors used to describe dental time-to-event outcomes. Electronic identification of such articles would be inconsistent, with low sensitivity and specificity. Authors should improve the reporting quality. Journals should allow sufficient space in abstracts to summarize research, and not impose unrealistic word limits. Readers should be mindful of these problems when searching for relevant articles. Additional research is required in this field.