What’s the diagnosis?
Here's how it's supposed to work. The patient comes in with a problem. The dentist (that's me) looks at the patient, evaluates the x-ray, examines the tooth or teeth in question and tells the patient in no uncertain terms "you need a filling," "you need a root canal," or "this tooth can't be saved." The doctor knows and tells the patient what they should do, right?
Here's the problem. Each of those treatment recommendations kind of jumps a step. I shouldn't recommend treatment without first explaining the diagnosis.
Merriam-Webster gives us a few different definitions for the term diagnosis. First is: "the art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms." This is probably the most typical way people think of diagnosis. This is how we can tell a cavity from gum disease. They present with different signs and symptoms. A sign is an objective measure of condition in the mouth. Examples of "signs" are periodontal (gum) measurements or x-rays. These are collected by the doctor in order to form a diagnosis. Symptoms are subjective experiences of the patient. Common symptoms of dental problems are pain, "discomfort" and pressure. They aren't measurable in the same way that signs are but that doesn't make them any less real. Symptoms are described by the patient and interpreted by the doctor in relation to the objective signs collected.
Another defintion of diagnosis is: "investigation or analysis of the cause or nature of a condition, situation, or problem." I prefer this definition because it describes an active search to get to the bottom of the problem presented.
Some dental diagnoses (plural of diagnosis) are very straightforward. A cavity found on the x-ray and verified with magnification and lighting and recorded with an intraoral photo is dentistry's version of the slam dunk. This is a very common finding and the likelyhood of a dentist getting it wrong is very low.
Other conditions require us to be a bit like a detective. Sometimes we find ourselves settling on a differential diagnosis. The differential diagnosis is a list of the most likely things that could be causing our problem. For instance, "the tooth needs a root canal" isn't a diagnosis. That's a recommended treatment. A differential diagnosis might be "the nerve of the tooth is inflamed from a deep cavity. It may be able to heal from this trauma (reversible pulpitis) or it might be on it's way to dying (irreversible pulpitis). There are some signs and symptoms that help us determine which way it's heading. And sometimes, we just don't know!
Next time you're visiting your dentist or your doctor, ask them to talk about the diagnosis. One thing I can promise, they'll be surpised that you asked. You'll be letting them know that you're an interested patient who wants to take an active part in their care. I promise that you won't regret asking!
Are you interested in working with a Saginaw dentist who explains the diagnosis? Then I'm interested in having you as my patient! Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org (I always answer my own email!) or call the office at (989) 799-9133. We'll get you in right away and you won't believe a dental office can treat you so well!