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4th Year Dentistry Essentials: Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is a review of research that aims to be principled, methodical and explicit. A systematic review addresses a clearly defined research question and uses explicit and standardised methods to identify and review the literature (EPPI-Centre).

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions states that systematic reviews have the following characteristics:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Steps to a systematic review

  1. Plan the review 

  2. Search for the literature.

  3. Analyse the results.

  4. Synthesise findings from included sources.

  5. Write the review.

  6. Publish the review.


Types of reviews

The PICO model is a tool widely used to develop answerable questions.

   Population, Patient or Problem

   Who are the people being studied or What is the problem being looked at?
   What are their characteristics?


   What is the treatment or intervention being studied? (treat, diagnose, observe)

   Comparison, Control or Comparator

   What is the intervention compared to? (e.g. other interventions, standard treatment, no treatment)
   This can be optional if no comparison applies.


   What are the relevant outcomes and how are they measured?

Chapter 5 of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions has more information on the defining each element of the PICO acronym.


Variants of PICO


Use when there is no Comparison, Control or Comparator


Includes Time from the intervention that outcomes are measured.


Includes Study Design e.g. cohorts or randomized controlled trials.

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