Radiographic lesion depth should not be used as the single determinant of the restorative threshold for clinically inaccessible approximal caries lesions. Temporary tooth separation is a feasible and effective diagnostic aid for assessment and appropriate management of approximal lesions.
In the era of tooth-preserving dentistry, the decision to restore approximal caries lesions must be based on the accurate assessment of tooth cavitation, as the accumulation of oral biofilms in these areas encourages lesion progression. However, lesions radiographically into dentin remain the main threshold criterion for restoring approximal lesions even though most of these lesions may not be cavitated. A school-based clinical protocol for temporary tooth separation (TTS) was developed to improve visual-tactile assessment and management of clinically inaccessible approximal lesions. TTS data retrieved from electronic health records were used to correlate radiographic lesion depth and surface cavitation status with lesion location and the patient’s caries risk and to evaluate the effectiveness of TTS as a diagnostic aid for approximal lesions. Of the 206 lesions assessed, 66.5% (n=137) were located in the maxillary arch, 56.6% (n=116) in distal surfaces, 61.3% (n=114) in premolars, and 21.5% (n=40) in molars. After tooth separation, 79.6% (n=164) of the lesions were diagnosed as noncavitated, including 90% (n=66) of the lesions radiographically at the inner half of enamel (E2) and 66% (n=49) of those at the outer-third of dentin (D1). Logistic regression analysis using E2 and D1 lesions showed no significant association between lesion depth or cavitation status with lesion location and caries risk. TTS is a feasible and effective diagnostic aid for the assessment and appropriate management of approximal caries lesions. There is a need to reevaluate the use of radiographic lesion depth as the single determinant of the restorative threshold for clinically inaccessible approximal lesions.