Most indices for the assessment of wear of various aetiologies include the distinction between 'enamel still present' and 'dentine exposed' for grading. Since the visual diagnosis of exposed dentine has not yet been validated, the present study is a first attempt to investigate its accuracy and consistency. Sixty-one examiners (23 scientists, 18 university dentists and 20 dental students) were asked to diagnose 49 tooth areas with different grades of wear and to decide whether dentine was exposed (positive test) or not (negative test). Afterwards, the teeth were histologically evaluated. In 44 areas, dentine (also in all cases with minor wear) was exposed, and in 5 areas enamel was present. Overall sensitivity was 0.65, specificity 0.88 and the proportion of correct diagnoses was 0.67. The diagnosis 'dentine is exposed' was about 5 times as likely and the diagnosis 'dentine is not exposed' half as likely to come from an area with exposed dentine than from an enamel-covered area. The closeness of the visual diagnosis to the histological findings was only fair (kappa=0.27), no significant impact of professional experience was found. For inter- and intra-examiner agreement, kappa was 0.28 and 0.55, respectively. It was concluded that the diagnosis of exposed dentine is difficult.
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