Implications of caries diagnostic strategies for clinical management decisions

Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2012 Jun;40(3):257-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0528.2011.00655.x. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Objectives: In clinical practice, a visual-tactile caries examination is frequently supplemented by bitewing radiography. This study evaluated strategies for combining visual-tactile and radiographic caries detection methods and determined their implications for clinical management decisions in a low-caries population.

Methods: Each of four examiners independently examined preselected contacting interproximal surfaces in 53 dental students aged 20-37 years using a visual-tactile examination and bitewing radiography. The visual-tactile examination distinguished between noncavitated and cavitated lesions while the radiographic examination determined lesion depth. Direct inspection of the surfaces following tooth separation for the presence of cavitated or noncavitated lesions was the validation method. The true-positive rate (i.e. the sensitivity) and the false-positive rate (i.e. 1-specificity) were calculated for each diagnostic strategy.

Results: Visual-tactile examination provided a true-positive rate of 34.2% and a false-positive rate of 1.5% for the detection of a cavity. The combination of a visual-tactile and a radiographic examination using the lesion in dentin threshold for assuming cavitation had a true-positive rate of 76.3% and a false-positive rate of 8.2%. When diagnostic observations were translated into clinical management decisions using the rule that a noncavitated lesion should be treated nonoperatively and a cavitated lesion operatively, our results showed that the visual-tactile method alone was the superior strategy, resulting in most correct clinical management decisions and most correct decisions regarding the choice of treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dental Caries / diagnosis*
  • Dental Caries / diagnostic imaging
  • Dental Caries / pathology
  • Dental Caries / therapy
  • Dentin / pathology
  • Humans
  • Observer Variation
  • Radiography
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tooth / pathology
  • Young Adult