Electrical conductance for the detection of early tooth decay

Dentists often aim to identify tooth decay that has already advanced to a level that needs a filling. If dentists were able to find tooth decay when it has only affected the outer layer of the tooth (enamel) then it is possible to stop the decay from spreading any further and prevent the need for fillings. It is also important to avoid a false‐positive result, when treatment may be provided when caries is absent. This is one of a series of reviews on diagnostic tests for dental caries, we also have reviews on imaging modalities, transillumination, fluorescence devices and tests to detect root caries.

The aim of this Cochrane Review was to find out how accurate electrical conductance devices (non‐invasive devices that send an electrical current to the surface of the tooth) are for detecting and diagnosing early tooth decay as part of the dental ‘check‐up’ for children and adults who visit their general dentist. Researchers in Cochrane included seven studies published between 1997 and 2018 to answer this question.

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Dental imaging methods for the detection of early tooth decay

Dentists often aim to identify tooth decay that has already advanced to a level which needs a filling. If dentists were able to find tooth decay when it has only affected the outer layer of the tooth (enamel) then it is possible to stop the decay from spreading any further and prevent the need for fillings. It is also important to avoid a false-positive result, when treatment may be given when caries is absent.

This Cochrane Review aimed to find out how accurate X-ray images and other types of dental imaging are for detecting early tooth decay as part of the dental ‘check-up’ for children and adults who visit their general dentist. Researchers in Cochrane included 77 studies published between 1986 and 2018 to answer this question.

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Light‐based tests for the detection and diagnosis of early tooth decay

Dentists often aim to identify tooth decay that has already advanced to a level which needs a filling. If dentists were able to find tooth decay when it has only affected the outer layer of the tooth (enamel) then it is possible to stop the decay from spreading any further and prevent the need for fillings. It is also important to avoid a false‐positive result, when treatment may be provided when caries is absent.

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How accurate are fluorescence devices for detecting and diagnosing early tooth decay?

Dentist holding caries detector with fluorescent light for checking the teeth.

Dentists often aim to identify tooth decay that has already advanced to a level which needs a filling. If dentists were able to find tooth decay when it has only affected the outer layer of the tooth then it is possible to stop the decay from spreading any further and prevent the need for fillings. It is also important to avoid a false-positive result, when treatment may be provided when caries is absent.

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Sealants or fluoride varnishes: which treatment is better for preventing decay in the permanent back teeth of children and adolescents?

Tooth decay is when a small hole develops in a tooth. This happens because bacteria that live in the mouth feed on sugar in the food we eat. As they feed, the bacteria produce acid that attacks teeth. If teeth are not cleaned regularly after eating, or if someone consumes a lot of sugary foods and drinks, the repeated acid attacks can create holes in the hard outer surface of the teeth. If untreated, these holes can deepen and damage the layer of tooth underneath the surface (dentine). Many people around the world develop tooth decay at some point in their life. In most adolescents and children over the age of six years, decay damages the biting surfaces of the permanent teeth at the back of the mouth.

To prevent decay, dentists can apply a dental sealant, or fluoride varnish, directly onto the back teeth. A dental sealant is a coating made from an adhesive material such as resin or glass ionomer, which the dentists applies once to teeth. It seals off the grooves in teeth that tend to collect food, and protects them from the acid. By comparison, a fluoride varnish is a sticky paste that contains high levels of fluoride; fluoride is a mineral naturally present in teeth that protects them from damage. Fluoride varnishes need to be applied to teeth by the dentist two to four times a year. Continue reading

The evidence on flossing and other methods of cleaning between the teeth

Tooth decay and gum diseases affect most people. They can cause pain, difficulties with eating and speaking, low self-esteem, and, in extreme cases, may lead to tooth loss and the need for surgery. The cost to health services of treating these diseases is very high.

As dental plaque is the root cause, it is important to remove plaque from teeth on a regular basis. While many people routinely brush their teeth to remove plaque up to the gum line, it is difficult for toothbrushes to reach into areas between teeth (‘interdental’), so interdental cleaning is often recommended as an extra step in personal oral hygiene routines. Different tools can be used for interdental cleaning, such as dental floss, interdental brushes, tooth cleaning sticks, and water pressure devices known as oral irrigators. Continue reading

Which strength of fluoride in toothpaste is most effective?

Tooth decay (caries) is a widespread disease, affecting billions of people worldwide. Fluoride has long been used to prevent decay, through a variety of different methods including toothpaste, water, milk, mouthrinses, tooth gels and varnish. Regular toothbrushing is recommended to prevent decay and other oral diseases, and toothbrushing for 2 minutes twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste is generally recommended. The typical strength of regular or family toothpaste is around 1000 to 1500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride, but many other strengths are available worldwide. There is no minimum fluoride concentration, but the maximum permissible fluoride concentration for a toothpaste varies according to age and country. Higher concentrations are rarely available over the counter, and are classed as a prescription‐only medicine. Stronger fluoride toothpaste may offer greater protection against decay but also increases the risk of fluorosis (enamel defects) in developing teeth. This is an update of the Cochrane Review first published in 2010. Continue reading

Slowly does it: no evidence that slow-release fluoride devices are effective

Tooth decay is not distributed evenly among the population, with certain groups being at greater risk of developing tooth decay than others. For example, research in Scotland has shown that 50% of tooth decay occurs in 11% of 5-year-old children and only 6% of 14-year-old children. In light of this uneven distribution, it is often suggested that these small percentages of children may be offered targeted-caries preventive measures to great potential effect, in a cost effective manner. One such preventive measure is the use of slow-release fluoride devices (e.g. slow-dissolving fluoride-releasing glass beads). Continue reading

Teeth restored using atraumatic restorative treatment may be more likely to fail, but evidence is low quality

Dental caries (tooth decay) has been considered the most common global disease. Conventional methods (drill and fill) involve the use of electric drills to clear away decayed areas of tooth before filling. Local anaesthetic (painkiller) is normally injected to prevent pain during the procedure. Conventional treatments require highly trained dental health personnel, access to electricity, appropriate tools and are more expensive. These factors may limit access especially in underdeveloped regions of service provision. Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) is an alternative approach for managing dental decay, which involves removal of decayed tissue using hand instruments alone, usually without the use of anaesthesia (injected painkiller) and electrical equipment. Continue reading

Uncertain evidence on the value of school dental screening programmes

Boy having teeth examinedOral diseases, especially dental caries, affect children worldwide. If unchecked, oral health can deteriorate progressively and adversely impact children’s general well-being. It also has a financial bearing at family and community levels. School dental screening is a public health measure where the oral examination of children is carried out in the school setting, and then parents are informed about the oral condition and treatment needs of their child. The screening aims to identify oral health concerns at an early stage, and prompt parents to seek treatment where required. Continue reading