Dental Caries Classifications
Caries can be classified by location, etiology, rate of progression, and affected hard tissues. These classification can be used to characterize a particular case of tooth decay in order to more accurately represent the condition to others and also indicate the severity of tooth destruction.
G.V. Black Classification of Restorations
Generally, there are two types of caries when separated by location: caries found on smooth surfaces and caries found in pits and fissures. The location, development, and progression of smooth-surface caries differ from those of pit and fissure caries. G.V. Black created a classification system that is widely used and based on the location of the caries on the tooth. The original classification distinguished caries into five groups, indicated by the word, "Class", and a Roman numeral. Pit and fissure caries is indicated as Class I; smooth surface caries is further divided into Class II, Class III, Class IV, and Class V. A Class VI was added onto Black's Classification of Caries Lesions and also represents a smooth-surface carious lesion.
The pits and fissures of teeth provide a location for caries formation.
 Pit and fissure caries (class I dental caries)
Pits and fissures are anatomic landmarks on a tooth where the enamel folds inward. Fissures are formed during the development of grooves but the enamel in the area is not fully fused. As a result, a deep linear depression forms in the enamel's surface structure, which forms a location for dental caries to develop and flourish. Fissures are mostly located on the occlusal (chewing) surfaces of posterior (rear) teeth and palatal surfaces of maxillary anterior (front) teeth. Pits are small, pinpoint depressions that are most commonly found at the ends or cross-sections of grooves. In particular, buccal pits are found on the facial surfaces of molars. For all types of pits and fissures, the deep infolding of enamel makes oral hygiene along these surfaces difficult, allowing dental caries to develop more commonly in these areas.
The occlusal surfaces of teeth represent 12.5% of all tooth surfaces but are the location of over 50% of all dental caries. Among children, pit and fissure caries represent 90% of all dental caries. Pit and fissure caries can sometimes be difficult to detect. As the decay progresses, caries in enamel nearest the surface of the tooth spreads gradually deeper. Once the caries reaches the dentin at the dentino-enamel junction (DEJ), the decay quickly spreads laterally. Within the dentin, the decay follows a triangle pattern that points to the tooth's pulp. This pattern of decay is typically described as two triangles (one triangle in enamel, and another in dentin) with their bases conjoined to each other at the DEJ. This base-to-base pattern is typical of pit and fissure caries, unlike smooth-surface caries (where base and apex of the two triangles join).
 Smooth-surface caries
There are three types of smooth-surface caries. Proximal caries, also called interproximal caries, form on the smooth surfaces between adjacent teeth. Root caries form on the root surfaces of teeth. The third type of smooth-surface caries occur on any other smooth tooth surface.
In this radiograph, the dark spots in the adjacent teeth show proximal caries.
Proximal caries are the most difficult type to detect. Frequently, this type of caries cannot be detected visually or manually with a dental explorer. Proximal caries form cervically (toward the roots of a tooth) just under the contact between two teeth. As a result, radiographs are needed for early discovery of proximal caries. Under Black's classification system, proximal caries on posterior teeth (premolars and molars) are designated as Class II caries. Proximal caries on anterior teeth (incisors and canines) are indicated as Class III if the incisal edge (chewing surface) is not included and Class IV if the incisal edge is included.
Root caries, which are sometimes described as a category of smooth-surfaces caries, are the third most common type of caries and usually occur when the root surfaces have been exposed due to gingival recession. When the gingiva is healthy, root caries is unlikely to develop because the root surfaces are not as accessible to bacterial plaque. The root surface is more vulnerable to the demineralization process than enamel because cementum begins to demineralize at 6.7 pH, which is higher than enamel's critical pH. Regardless, it is easier to arrest the progression of root caries than enamel caries because roots have a greater reuptake of fluoride than enamel. Root caries are most likely to be found on facial surfaces, then interproximal surfaces, then lingual surfaces. Mandibular molars are the most common location to find root caries, followed by mandibular premolars, maxillary anteriors, maxillary posteriors, and mandibular anteriors.
Lesions on other smooth surfaces of teeth are also possible. Since these occur in all smooth surface areas of enamel except for interproximal areas, these types of caries are easily detected and are associated with high levels of plaque and diets promoting caries formation. Under Black's classification system, caries near the gingiva on the facial or lingual surfaces is designated Class V. Class VI is reserved for caries confined to cusp tips on posterior teeth or incisal edges of anterior teeth.
 Other general descriptions
Besides the two previously mentioned categories, carious lesions can be described further by their location on a particular surface of a tooth. Caries on a tooth's surface that are nearest the cheeks or lips are called "facial caries", and caries on surfaces facing the tongue are known as "lingual caries". Facial caries can be subdivided into buccal (when found on the surfaces of posterior teeth nearest the cheeks) and labial (when found on the surfaces of anterior teeth nearest the lips). Lingual caries can also be described as palatal when found on the lingual surfaces of maxillary teeth because they are located beside the hard palate.
Caries near a tooth's cervixâ€”the location where the crown of a tooth and its roots meetâ€”are referred to as cervical caries. Occlusal caries are found on the chewing surfaces of posterior teeth. Incisal caries are caries found on the chewing surfaces of anterior teeth. Caries can also be described as "mesial" or "distal." Mesial signifies a location on a tooth closer to the median line of the face, which is located on a vertical axis between the eyes, down the nose, and between the contact of the central incisors. Locations on a tooth further away from the median line are described as distal.
In some instances, caries are described in other ways that might indicate the cause. "Baby bottle caries", "early childhood caries", or "baby bottle tooth decay" is a pattern of decay found in young children with their deciduous (baby) teeth. The teeth most likely affected are the maxillary anterior teeth, but all teeth can be affected. The name for this type of caries comes from the fact that the decay usually is a result of allowing children to fall asleep with sweetened liquids in their bottles or feeding children sweetened liquids multiple times during the day. Another pattern of decay is "rampant caries", which signifies advanced or severe decay on multiple surfaces of many teeth. Rampant caries may be seen in individuals with xerostomia, poor oral hygiene, stimulant use (due to drug-induced dry mouth
), and/or large sugar intake. If rampant caries is a result of previous radiation to the head and neck, it may be described as radiation-induced caries. Problems can also be caused by the self destruction of roots and whole tooth resorption when new teeth erupt or later from unknown causes
. Dr. Miller stated in 1887 that "Dental decay is chemico-parasitic process consisting of two stages, the decalcification of enamel, which results in its total destruction and the decalcification of dentin as a preliminary stage followed by dissolution of the softened residue." In his hypothesis, Dr.Miller assigned essential roles to three factors:
1. Carbohydrate substrate.
2. Acid which caused dissolution of tooth minerals.
3. Oral micro organisms which produce acid and also cause proteolysis.
 Rate of progression
Temporal descriptions can be applied to caries to indicate the progression rate and previous history. "Acute" signifies a quickly developing condition, whereas "chronic" describes a condition which has taken an extended time to develop where thousands of meals and snacks, many causing some acid demineralisation that is not remineralised and eventually results in cavities.
Recurrent caries, also described as secondary, are caries that appears at a location with a previous history of caries. This is frequently found on the margins of fillings and other dental restorations. On the other hand, incipient caries describes decay at a location that has not experienced previous decay. Arrested caries describes a lesion on a tooth which was previously demineralized but was remineralized before causing a cavitation.
 Affected hard tissue
Depending on which hard tissues are affected, it is possible to describe caries as involving enamel, dentin, or cementum. Early in its development, caries may affect only enamel. Once the extent of decay reaches the deeper layer of dentin, "dentinal caries" is used. Since cementum is the hard tissue that covers the roots of teeth, it is not often affected by decay unless the roots of teeth are exposed to the mouth. Although the term "cementum caries" may be used to describe the decay on roots of teeth, very rarely does caries affect the cementum alone. Roots have a very thin layer of cementum over a large layer of dentin, and thus most caries affecting cementum also affects dentin.