An overview of caries risk assessment, and its potential utility.

M. E. Moss, D. T. Zero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The clinical findings that dentists use to estimate the future caries activity of patients are imperfect. Almost invariably there are protective factors in patients who go on to develop clinical caries and there are risk factors that persist in patients who do not develop clinical caries. Therefore, the clinical decision process is characterized by a level of uncertainty concerning the selection of patient management strategies for caries. To the degree that information relating to caries risk assessment can reduce the amount of uncertainty associated with decisions for clinical patient care in the present, that information has utility. Dentists face many treatment decisions daily. The integration of a mechanistic understanding of caries and use of clinical data may yield useful information that will improve clinical patient management. Certain factors affect the potential utility of caries risk screening from the clinician's perspective. These can be summarized in terms of the costs and benefits of the procedures as well as the availability and appeal of alternative procedures. Factored in with these considerations are the investment history one has made toward a given procedure and the propensity for changing one's behavior. These considerations are not easily addressed at present since costs and benefits for different therapeutic approaches have been developed for only a few dental conditions. We have put forth a framework that emphasizes the clinician as the key component in the assessment of caries risk. We argue that integration of the clinician's focus with a mechanistic understanding of caries and a probabilistic, empirical appreciation for caries activity will be beneficial for patient management. These arguments remain untested and should be challenged in a research setting. We need to establish whether information derived from risk assessment procedures leads to improved clinical outcomes. We need to have a better understanding of how clinicians process clinically available risk information. We need to determine what additional risk assessment information will improve the clinician's ability to identify high-risk patients. We also need to establish whether there are differences in the usefulness of additional risk information depending on the level of experience of the clinician.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)932-940
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Dentistry(all)

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