08:27 AM

To Fill or Not to Fill: That is the Question

By Dr. Doyle Williams, Chief Dental Officer, DentaQuest

Recently, the New York Times published an article, “A Closer Look at Teeth May Mean More Fillings for Dentists,” which discussed microcavities and the different ways dental care providers treat them. A 22 year old college student who had grown up without ever having a cavity visited a dentist while at college and found out she had a cavity – in fact, multiple cavities. Somehow, in just 12 months, she went from perfect oral health to having many cavities. How can that be?

Ever new technologies make it possible for dentists to find very early stage cavities (microcavities) that can’t be seen with X-rays or the naked eye. These technologies are an effective tool in identifying early decay and allowing dentists to address it before it progresses to become a bigger and more painful problem.

The microcavities they detect are abnormalities which can be an indication of the beginnings of tooth decay. For patients who previously had perfect oral health, hearing they may have a number of cavities that need to be filled is a shock. If you are concerned that a diagnosis doesn’t match up with your prior dental history (and there has been no change in your home care or health), it is never a bad idea to get a second opinion.

Today, when dental teams catch disease in an early stage, there are more options for patients than the traditional filling. For example, dentists can watch and wait to see what happens as suggested in the article by Dr. James Bader, a research professor at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

Another approach is to take preventive steps. The diagnosis of a microcavity may lead a dentist to recommend the application of sealants, a thin plastic coating applied to the teeth to protect them from the bacteria that causes dental disease and the potential for further decay.

Or, a dental health professional may attempt to help “heal” the tooth. At the DentaQuest Oral Health Center, the dental team would take steps to reduce the level of the decay-causing bacteria in the patient’s mouth, and enhance the body’s natural ability to replace minerals. So instead of placing fillings that will need to be replaced in the future, they use other measures to stop early decay, help the tooth heal, and then make it more resistant to future decay. It’s a prevention-focused approach to oral health care.

My colleague, Peter Blanchard, DDS, MBA; Director, Evidence-based Practice, DentaQuest Oral Health Center, wrote an op ed in response to the New York Times article entitled “To fill or not to fill: That is the question” which was published on DrBicuspid.com.

Finding cavities early is never a bad idea. It gives us more options to help our patients stay disease free.