A dental hygienist in her office

What Is a Caries Risk Assessment?

The Caries Risk Assessment was developed by the California Dental Association with the UCSF School of Dentistry as a way to determine your risk of cavity-causing tooth decay. With the results of the Caries Risk Assessment, dental professionals are better able to take proactive, preventive measures specifically tailored to your individual needs to help you protect your teeth. This tool has become the standard of care in dentistry and is probably already being utilized in your regular checkups.

Why Is the Caries Risk Assessment Tool Important?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), caries levels (or tooth decay levels) are exceptionally high in the United States and the rest of the Americas due to the level of sugars and fermentable carbohydrates consumed here.

That's why the most impactful thing you can do to prevent cavities starts at home. According to the American Dental Association, by watching what you eat and practicing good oral hygiene, you can significantly reduce cavity-causing bacteria from flourishing in your mouth. By working closely with your dental professional, they can utilize the Caries Risk Assessment to monitor your risk factors. Then they can make recommendations and come up with a plan to help you prevent tooth decay before it starts (as opposed to reactively treating cavities with fillings, root canals, or even extractions once it's too late.)

Learn more about cavity prevention.

How Does the Caries Risk Assessment and Management Work?

Your dental hygienist is the most likely person to assess your caries risk factors, as the main focus of their job is prevention. Using the Caries Risk Assessment form, they will evaluate the bacteria in your mouth, diet, and the condition of your mouth and teeth. The form has three major categories:

  • Disease indicators: They will look for any visible cavities, restorations are done within the last few years, any white spots, or demineralized enamel you may have.
  • RISK FACTORS: Your dental professional will note your systemic bacterial count, irregularities in your salivary flow, any exposed roots you may have, whether or not you wear braces, have deep grooves in your teeth, or whether or not you have behavioral habits that could adversely affect your teeth (frequent snacking, smoking, poor oral hygiene, etc.)
  • Protective factors: Proactive measures taken to protect your teeth will also be noted, such as the use of fluoride, xylitol, and other antibacterial components that help remineralize the teeth.

Your dental professional will use various tools and methods to assess these factors. They may use dental X-rays, a laser tool that measures fluorescence in your teeth, test the levels of acid-producing bacteria in your mouth, and will ask you questions about your nutritional habits and your saliva flow.

By using the Caries Risk Assessment, your dental professional will be able to make appropriate recommendations for care based on your risk of tooth decay. If necessary, they may suggest a disease management protocol to prevent early or incipient (newly developing) lesions from progressing.

Remember that the essential preventive measures start with you. Practicing good oral hygiene, watching what you eat, and getting regular checkups are key to having healthy teeth and gums. And suppose you follow the recommendations your dental professional gives you after doing the Caries Risk Assessment. In that case, chances are you'll have a set of healthy, pearly white teeth well into your golden years. Now, that's something to smile about.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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