‘New research’ from Sydney University is nothing new for dentists

Wednesday, December 12, 2015

Tooth decay vs demineralisation

Research released this week from the University of Sydney claimed dentistry needs to shift away from a ‘drill and fill’ approach, and that tooth decay could be reversed when caught early.

While I agree the drill should be avoided where possible, the way that the research has been presented, particularly in the media, is somewhat misleading.

Let me explain. The researchers talk about ‘tooth decay’, but what they really mean here is ‘early demineralisation’, which is the stage before tooth decay begins. This is playing on words and definitions.

A tooth is a hard structure with a high mineral content (like bone). Early problems with bacteria and acids involve the removal of these minerals – hence the term ‘early demineralisation’.

Decay means the mineral layers of the tooth are compromised and the tooth is now ‘rotting’. At this point the only option is to physically restore the tooth.

In cases of early demineralisation, fillings can and should be avoided, mostly by personal oral hygiene. This has been standard practice in dentistry for many years. But this isn’t the case for damage that has reached the stage of creating a cavity.

I would hope that dentists do not drill when no hole is evident or can be proven – it’s concerning that the research seems to suggest that most dentists do.

It’s yet another reason why it’s so important to be vigilant when it comes to dentistry. It’s so important that before undertaking any treatment that you ask your dentist to show you via x-rays or a photo that a cavity truly exists. They should not be given, or ask for, blind faith.

The positive side of this research is that Associate Professor Evans and his team are advocating for prevention and avoiding the drill where possible.

I believe that using the correct terminology, however, is vital for the general public to gain a better understanding of dentistry and dental health.

Posted in: Opinion

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