The PICO model is the most effective method of defining and formulating research questions in the field of dentistry and dental hygiene. The easy-to-remember acronym breaks down specific patient problems into four key components to ensure the most relevant evidence is found.
- Patient, Problem or Population – Start by defining the characteristics of the patient or problem.
- Intervention – Consider the type of intervention that is sought (e.g. diagnosis, treatment, observation).
- Comparison – What other alternative interventions are available (e.g. surgery, drugs/medicine, placebo trials)
- Outcome – What are the expected, relevant or possible outcomes (e.g. improvement, cure, complications, death)
Creating Search Terms
At this stage, the researcher has a specific and detailed question outlined for search. Since online searches, journals and research libraries identify keywords in their searches, consider what other synonyms or search terms could be used to locate similar results.
Evidence-Based Dentistry Search Engine
Some schools, like the University of Illinois at Chicago, have developed search engines that allow medical students to input their search in PICO format to ensure only the most relevant results are retrieved. Click here to learn more.
Other resources, such as PubMed, use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) to describe and locate materials. MeSH is a controlled list of terms and vocabulary used to describe each article in the PubMed system. While this structure creates consistency and accuracy in searches, it does require users to familiarize themselves with the vocabulary. A tutorial can be found here.
Need More Help?
The University of Toronto has a number of additional resources available to help dental students master the art of research. Learn how to properly frame research questions, what databases to search, how to limit search results, and more at https://dentistry.library.utoronto.ca/.