A term being used more and more by dentists these days is "minimally invasive dentistry", however very few people know what the term means or the benefits this dental practice has over those used previously. Minimally invasive dentistry is a modern dental practice centered on the management of dental diseases that cause tooth decay, first by controlling and curing these diseases; then by restoring the tooth; then filling only where necessary; and finally by preventing any future dental diseases.
Classical restorative dentistry has traditionally followed an approach in classification and treatment of tooth decay originally proposed by G.V. Black over a century ago. This methodology was based on very limited knowledge at the time about the pathology of the dental diseases that caused tooth decay, and the need to prepare a cavity to repair a lesion with the limited materials available. As a result, the general approach was to treat the symptoms of tooth decay by removing it and restoring the tooth surgically. In some cases this same methodology is still being applied today; however minimally invasive dentistry is becoming more widely accepted and is now often included in the curriculum of most dental schools.
Scientific and technological advances have allowed for better understanding of these dental diseases, opening the door for new methodologies and approaches to treatment. Minimally invasive dentistry was designed to apply this new understanding by employing a disease-centric philosophy to the management of tooth decay. Although advances in dental science are used in mainstream dental practice, minimally invasive dentistry has changed many of the traditional treatment guidelines beginning with the reclassification of tooth decay lesions. This reclassification was designed to reflect the possibility of curing the disease and hardening early lesions before they resulted in irreversible damage.
Along with changes in the treatment of dental diseases and tooth decay, one of the main objectives of minimally invasive dentistry is prevention and early detection of tooth decay and the dental diseases that cause it. Removing plaque through regular brushing and flossing along with routine visits to a dental professional are still the most important methods of prevention, however a number of newer treatments have been introduced to reduce the bacteria in the mouth that can lead to dental disease. In addition, new methods of detecting and managing tooth decay earlier allows dentists to treat the decay, and in some cases reverse it, before significant damage has been caused.
The main goal of minimally invasive dentistry is to maintain as much of the natural tooth structure as possible. This means not only early detection but early treatment as well. In the past when a dentist spotted a cavity early, the dentist would have to wait until the cavity grew large enough for the filling material to hold. Patients often had to make multiple visits to the dentist until the cavity could be treated which could not only be time consuming and costly, but painful. Dental filling materials developed for minimally invasive dentistry are significantly stronger than previous dental fillings, letting dentists to treat cavities much earlier. In addition, these new filling materials are white in color, unlike previous filling materials, resulting in a more aesthetically pleasing natural look.