Dentists 'mistake stains for decay'
Dirty teeth may be causing unnecessary drilling at the dentist, research suggests.
A study of 200 private dental patients found that hard to remove stains can easily be mistaken for signs of decay.
The "false decay" was only unmasked using an advanced technique that cleans teeth with a blast of fine abrasive particles.
Dental researchers first carried out traditional examinations, using scrapers and mirrors to look for obvious cavities and signs of decay that appear as dark shadows under tooth enamel.
Focusing on a particular "premolar" situated between the front and back teeth found signs of decay in 78% of cases.
But 63% of them turned out to be false alarms when they were re-examined using the CrystalAir abrasion technique.
What had appeared to be decay on the first examination was actually bad staining.
CrystalAir abrasion blasts away dirt, debris and stains using a narrow stream of aluminium oxide particles propelled by helium.
It is used in conjunction with a laser probe that can detect hidden deep decay by shining a light beam through the tooth.
Using the two systems together was 70% more accurate in picking up decay than traditional techniques, the research showed.
Dr Robin Horton, from the Wayside Dental Practice in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, who co-led the study, said: "Traditional dental check-ups have led to unnecessary dental treatment for millions of patients.
"CrystalAir abrasion really is revolutionary and should encourage more patients to visit the dentist if it means that unnecessary treatment can be avoided."
While the abrasion technique revealed false signs of decay, the laser probe uncovered decay that had been "covered up" by the toughening effect of fluoride toothpaste on enamel.
CrystalAir abrasion is also used in place of the traditional dentist's drill to blast away damaged areas of teeth in preparation for fillings. The techniques is said to be painless, fast, and less harmful to teeth.
A basic check-up at the Wayside clinic using CrystalAir abrasion and the Laser Decay Detector costs £40.