The Value Of Your Torturous Dental Work Is Drawn Into Question

Technological advancements mean that dentists now have an even better idea of what your Coke and Snickers bar addictions are doing to your teeth. That seems like great news, but it actually has some people worried — and not just because it makes it harder to avoid the dentist's disapproving looks. Some people are getting fillings in spots that just have the potential of developing into cavities, even though many dentists believe the treatment is pointless, or even harmful.

The New York Times reports that dentists can now detect when patients develop "incipient carious lesions," which some dentists have termed "microcavities." This is the first stage of damage to the tooth enamel, and the minerals found in saliva may be able to patch up the spot, particularly if you use products that contain fluoride. A recent study found 63 percent of the 500 dentists questioned drill and fill in microcavities, but some experts say it's better to wait until it develops into an actual cavity, which involves decay of the layer below the enamel. Dr. James Bader, a research professor at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, says he recommends "watchful waiting." He prefers to leave the spot and examine it again at the patient's next checkup because once you drill out a tooth, "you're condemning that person to refilling" in the future.

The American Dental Association is purposely vague on how microcavities should be treated, since dentist have different opinions on the matter. Dr. Douglas Young, a dental diagnostician at the University of the Pacific, argues that microcavities should be treated because:

"If you were to go to a physician and he were to diagnose risk factors for heart disease, the physician would take action and treat the early signs of disease and try to prevent future disease."

Though admittedly, my dental expertise it limited to yanking loose baby teeth, it seems like there's a problem with that logic. There's a significant chance heart disease could kill you, but if a spot hasn't even developed into a cavity yet, what are the chances that in a few months your teeth will be falling out of your head?

Plus, there are other factors to consider, like the cost of the procedure, which is usually $88 to $350 per filling, and the frequently hellish experience of dental work. If you're going to submit yourself to painful prodding and awkward open-mouthed small talk, it seems like you'd want to know that it's absolutely necessary.

A Closer Look at Teeth May Mean More Fillings [NYT]

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