At the end of a dental hygiene visit, the doctor will come in and perform an examination. In the state of Georgia an examination is required to be performed by the dentist at each dental cleaning. This allows him to determine if the patient has any cavities, worn/broken restorations, gingival health issues, or oral tissue health issues. Checking for decay is a three step process. The doctor will visually inspect the most current x-rays of the teeth first. X-rays detect cavities best on the sides, not the top of the teeth. Next he will visually inspect the top, or biting surfaces of the teeth. This allows him to check for dark areas in the pits and fissures of the biting surface of the teeth. Next he will use a sharp explorer to probe all of the pits and fissures. If the tip of the explorer “catches” it means that the enamel is soft due to the presence of a cavity. He will also probe around any existing restorations to detect any soft areas that indicate the presence of a cavity forming beneath them. If a cavity is detected the doctor will then outline any restorations needed, and an intraoral photo may be taken for insurance purposes.
There are a few things to remember about having a cavity filled. First, once you have had a cavity on a tooth, you have an increased risk of getting a cavity here again. Second, once you have a filling decay around its margins, that filling will have to be replaced by an even larger filling. Third, if the filling was very large it may require a crown if decay occurs again.
While these are the present standards for detecting cavities new technology is being developed for the future. Research involving fiber optics, lasers, and LED is being done to perfect the ability to diagnose cavities sooner. While there are currently devices available, they haven’t yet become the standard for diagnosing cavities. The cost is very high on these devices, and the results are not always consistent. Once this new technology is perfected it would allow for restorations to be smaller and less invasive.