Aims The aims of this study were (i) to conduct a comprehensive systematic review of the literature on the outcome of primary (initial or first time) root canal treatment; (ii) to investigate the influence of some study characteristics on the estimated pooled success rates.
Methodology Longitudinal clinical studies investigating outcome of primary root canal treatment, published up to the end of 2002, were identified electronically (MEDLINE and Cochrane database 1966–2002 December, week 4). Four journals (International Endodontic Journal, Journal of Endodontics, Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology Endodontics Radiology and Dental Traumatology & Endodontics), bibliographies of all relevant papers and review articles were hand-searched. Three reviewers (Y-LN, SR and KG) independently assessed, selected the studies based on specified inclusion criteria, and extracted the data onto a pre-designed proforma. The study inclusion criteria were: longitudinal clinical studies investigating root canal treatment outcome; only primary root canal treatment carried out on the teeth studied; sample size given; at least 6-month postoperative review; success based on clinical and/or radiographic criteria (strict, absence of apical radiolucency; loose, reduction in size of radiolucency); overall success rate given or could be calculated from the raw data. The findings by individual study were summarized and the pooled success rates by each potential influencing factor were calculated for this part of the study.
Results Of the 119 articles identified, 63 studies published from 1922 to 2002, fulfilling the inclusion criteria were selected for the review: six were randomized trials, seven were cohort studies and 48 were retrospective studies. The reported mean success rates ranged from 31% to 96% based on strict criteria or from 60% to 100% based on loose criteria, with substantial heterogeneity in the estimates of pooled success rates. Apart from the radiographic criteria of success, none of the other study characteristics could explain this heterogeneity. Twenty-four factors (patient and operative) had been investigated in various combinations in the studies reviewed. The influence of preoperative pulpal and periapical status of the teeth on treatment outcome were most frequently explored, but the influence of treatment technique was poorly investigated.
Conclusions The estimated weighted pooled success rates of treatments completed at least 1 year prior to review, ranged between 68% and 85% when strict criteria were used. The reported success rates had not improved over the last four (or five) decades. The quality of evidence for treatment factors affecting primary root canal treatment outcome is sub-optimal; there was substantial variation in the study–designs. It would be desirable to standardize aspects of study–design, data recording and presentation format of outcome data in the much needed future outcome studies.