Tests to detect and inform the diagnosis of root caries

Patrick A. Fee, Richard Macey, Tanya Walsh (Lead / Corresponding author), Janet E. Clarkson, David Ricketts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Root caries is a well-recognised disease, with increasing prevalence as populations age and retain more of their natural teeth into later life. Like coronal caries, root caries can be associated with pain, discomfort, tooth loss, and contribute significantly to poorer oral health-related quality of life in the elderly. Supplementing the visual-tactile examination could prove beneficial in improving the accuracy of early detection and diagnosis. The detection of root caries lesions at an early stage in the disease continuum can inform diagnosis and lead to targeted preventive therapies and lesion arrest. Objectives: To assess the diagnostic test accuracy of index tests for the detection and diagnosis of root caries in adults, used alone or in combination with other tests. Search methods: Cochrane Oral Health's Information Specialist undertook a search of the following databases: MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 31 December 2018); Embase Ovid (1980 to 31 December 2018); US National Institutes of Health Ongoing Trials Register (ClinicalTrials.gov, to 31 December 2018); and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (to 31 December 2018). We studied reference lists as well as published systematic review articles. Selection criteria: We included diagnostic accuracy study designs that compared one or more index tests (laser fluorescence, radiographs, visual examination, electronic caries monitor (ECM), transillumination), either independently or in combination, with a reference standard. This included prospective studies that evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of single index tests and studies that directly compared two or more index tests. In vitro and in vivo studies were eligible for inclusion but studies that artificially created carious lesions were excluded. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors extracted data independently and in duplicate using a standardised data extraction and quality assessment form based on the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies 2 (QUADAS-2) specific to the review context. Estimates of diagnostic test accuracy were expressed as sensitivity and specificity with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for each dataset. We planned to use hierarchical models for data synthesis and explore potential sources of heterogeneity through meta-regression. Main results: Four cross-sectional diagnostic test accuracy studies providing eight datasets with data from 4997 root surfaces were analysed. Two in vitro studies evaluated secondary root caries lesions on extracted teeth and two in vivo studies evaluated primary root caries lesions within the oral cavity. Four studies evaluated laser fluorescence and reported estimates of sensitivity ranging from 0.50 to 0.81 and specificity ranging from 0.40 to 0.80. Two studies evaluated radiographs and reported estimates of sensitivity ranging from 0.40 to 0.63 and specificity ranging from 0.31 to 0.80. One study evaluated visual examination and reported sensitivity of 0.75 (95% CI 0.48 to 0.93) and specificity of 0.38 (95% CI 0.14 to 0.68). One study evaluated the accuracy of radiograph and visual examination in combination and reported sensitivity of 0.81 (95% CI 0.54 to 0.96) and specificity of 0.54 (95% CI 0.25 to 0.81). Given the small number of studies and important differences in the clinical and methodological characteristics of the studies we were unable to pool the results. Consequently, we were unable to formally evaluate the comparative accuracy of the different tests considered in this review. Using QUADAS-2 we judged all four studies to be at overall high risk of bias, but only two to have applicability concerns (patient selection domain). Reasons included bias in the selection process, use of post hoc (data driven) positivity thresholds, use of an imperfect reference standard, and use of extracted teeth. We downgraded the certainty of the evidence due to study limitations and serious imprecision of the results (downgraded two levels), and judged the certainty of the evidence to be very low. Authors' conclusions: Visual-tactile examination is the mainstay of root caries detection and diagnosis; however, due to the paucity of the evidence base and the very low certainty of the evidence we were unable to determine the additional benefit of adjunctive diagnostic tests for the detection and diagnosis of root caries.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013806
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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