I once came across a t-shirt that defined a dentist in the following way: “Dentist – noun. Someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand. See also wizard, magician.” Even as dentists, this feels peculiarly accurate as we attempt in a 10-minute consultation to dissect more than four years of dental education. The reality is, educating patients on the methods of diagnosis is not only possible but creates assurance in your dentist and better oral health habits for yourself.
Let’s begin with explaining the diagnosis of the common cavity. Decay manifests itself when oral bacteria break down tooth structure with acidic bi-products. The use of dental x-rays helps visualize decay between teeth where bacteria harbor at the point of contact. Depending on the size of decay, it is typically a dark gray area on the radiograph that, when contained in the outer white enamel, can be slowed or halted with fluoride. But when exposed to the softer dentin will require treatment to remove. Decay on the biting surfaces is usually diagnosed by determining if a “sticky” spot is observed with a dental instrument. Intraoral cameras are often utilized to help patients visualize these areas. Small areas of decay are treated with fillings, but large areas that compromise tooth and/or pulp integrity may require more extensive treatment like a crown and/or root canal.
Periodontal disease is typically diagnosed using measurements between the tooth and tissue that indicate areas where bacteria have caused the tissue to disconnect from the tooth at established depths. Often this can be visualized on x-rays where plaque can be seen beneath the gum. Gum bleeding indicates active inflammation in these areas, and this inflammation leads to bone loss over
a long period of time also visualized
on an x-ray.
Be aware that treatment following diagnosis is dependent on the philosophy of your dentist. Make a point to have your dentist explain your treatment options and the reasoning behind them. This will help ensure a healthy relationship between you and your dentist.