Have you ever been told your child has multiple cavities only to be told at a second opinion that there’s actually only one cavity? Frustrating, right? As parents, we want our child to have less cavities, so it often makes no sense to us why dentists come to different conclusions. So who’s right?
Here’s the bottom line: Dentists use a variety of methods that could impact how many cavities they detect and depending on the level of decay will choose different treatment approaches.
These types of methods can lead to different cavities being detected or missed:
Highest detection (catching cavities are their earliest)
- X-rays: Some kinds of cavities are only able to be detected using x-rays. Cavities that are forming in between teeth or below the gumline are nearly impossible to see or to find without an x-ray showing where the enamel is weakening or already punctured.
- Pediatric Dentists: General dentists and pediatrics dentists often approach things differently. Because many pediatric dentists gravitate towards preventative training and try to keep kids as healthy as possible, they tend to be able to see and diagnose cavities a little earlier. General dentists may flag a soft spot as something to keep an eye on, but may not actually call it a cavity.
Lower detection (catching mainly visible, advanced cavities)
- When dentists perform visual examinations, they’re able to see the larger cavities that are advanced simply by running the mirror tool along the teeth.
- After the visual exam, usually there will be a clinical oral examination. In an oral examination, the dentist will use a tool called the “explorer” to run up and down the teeth. Enamel is supposed to be hard and smooth, but when decay starts, the enamel gets soft and porous, which means the explorer will stick or catch in spots. Usually, if the explorer sticks, that means there’s a cavity or the beginning of a cavity in that spot.
- Finally, dentists can use a diagnostic fluid to indicate where cavities or soft spots are.
None of these methods are infallible and all dentists are different, though, so many dentists use a combination of them to try to catch all developing cavities early.
The question to ask yourself and your dentist is – do you want your child’s early cavities to be taken care of right away or do you want to wait until they are full-blown and heading into the roots? What are the pros and cons to either approach? Can early cavities go away on their own? Learn more about the pros and cons of filling cavities too early or waiting until they’re full blown here.
Because we are passionate about keeping your children as healthy as possible, our dentists typically use multiple methods to detect cavities and let you know about them before they spread deeper. If you ever have questions during your child’s care, please let us know! We consider ourselves your partner in your child’s care!