Skip to Content
chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up chevron-right chevron-left arrow-back star phone quote checkbox-checked search wrench info shield play connection mobile coin-dollar spoon-knife ticket pushpin location gift fire feed bubbles home heart calendar price-tag credit-card clock envelop facebook instagram twitter youtube pinterest yelp google reddit linkedin envelope bbb pinterest homeadvisor angies
Little girl having cavities

Have you ever been told your child has multiple cavities only to be told at a second opinion that there’s actually only one cavity? What’s with that? A cavity is a cavity, right? So why are their differences of opinion among competent dentists?

In this post we want to talk about different methods of detecting cavities and the philosophy behind treatment approaches! We hope that will help you understand what’s going on with these different diagnoses and feel confident in make choices about your child’s dental care.

Methods for Detecting Cavities
Highest Detection (Catching Cavities at Their Earliest)
  • X-rays: Some kinds of cavities are only able to be detected using x-rays. Cavities that are forming in between teeth or below the gumline are nearly impossible to see or to find without an x-ray showing where the enamel is weakening or already punctured.
Lower Detection (Catching Mainly Visible, Advanced Cavities)
  • When dentists perform visual examinations, they’re able to see the larger cavities that are advanced simply by running the mirror tool along with the teeth.
  • After the visual exam, usually, there will be a clinical oral examination. In an oral examination, the dentist will use a tool called the “explorer” to run up and down the teeth. Enamel is supposed to be hard and smooth, but when decay starts, the enamel gets soft and porous, which means the explorer will stick or catch in spots. Usually, if the explorer sticks, that means there’s a cavity or the beginning of a cavity in that spot.
  • Finally, dentists can use a diagnostic fluid to indicate where cavities or soft spots are.

None of these methods are infallible and all dentists are different, though, so many dentists use a combination of them to try to catch all developing cavities early.

In addition to different methods, there’s also often a different philosophy about how to deal with cavities between pediatric dentists and general dentists. Because many pediatric dentists gravitate towards preventative training and try to keep kids as healthy as possible, they tend to be able to diagnose cavities a little earlier. General dentists may flag a soft spot as something to keep an eye on, but not actually call it a cavity.

What does that mean for you as a parent? Well, the question to ask yourself and your dentist is – do you want your child’s early cavities to be taken care of right away or do you want to wait until they are full-blown and heading into the roots? What are the pros and cons to either approach? Can early cavities go away on their own? Learn more about the pros and cons of filling cavities too early or waiting until they’re full blown here.

Because we are passionate about keeping your children as healthy as possible, our dentists typically use multiple methods to detect cavities and let you know about them before they spread deeper. If you ever have questions during your child’s care, please let us know! We consider ourselves your partner in your child’s care!