Tooth Decay Diagnosis

How is tooth decay diagnosed?

Your saliva plays a vital role in protecting your teeth from tooth decay (dental caries). Certain medical conditions and types of medication can affect the volume and quality of your saliva so it is important that you keep your dentist up to date regarding any changes to your medical history. If you feel that your mouth has become drier than usual you should discuss this with your dentist who will assess the function of your salivary glands or refer you to a specialist.

During a dental inspection your dentist will use bright lights, mirrors, jets of air and magnifying equipment to inspect all of your tooth surfaces for signs of tooth decay. Close attention will be paid to any high-risk sites such as overlapping teeth or teeth erupting at an angle. Your dentist will also examine your lips, cheeks, tongue and the other soft tissues of your mouth to check for signs of other conditions such as oral cancers or infections.

What about check-ups?

The best scenario for treating tooth decay (dental caries) is to identify the lesion as early as possible to minimise the need for large fillings. Enamel lesions can remain intact indefinitely and may never require a filling as long as they are kept clean and strengthened with fluoride from toothpaste, mouthwash or dental varnish on a routine basis

The interval between your check-ups will depend on your level of dental risk and your dental history. If you have very few fillings and practise a good level of oral hygiene you might be placed on a 12-month or 18-month recall list. If you have many fillings and keep developing new cavities every year then you may need to be seen every six months until your caries rate stabilises.

What are dental X-rays?

If indicated, your dentist may recommend an X-ray. This is a particularly valuable tool, as it enables tiny areas of enamel weakening between the teeth to be identified early and then treated appropriately to prevent them from developing into dental cavities. Dental X-rays will usually be repeated at regular intervals (often two years apart) to monitor the progress of previously identified small lesions and to check for new areas of decay.

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Dr Ben Williams
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hayley Willacy
Document ID:
29021 (v3)
Last Checked:
19 May 2017
Next Review:
01 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.