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Restorative Dentistry

Which caries removal method to select?


Data sources

Searches were carried out using PubMed/MEDLINE and Web of Science databases between January 2008 and January 2023. Only articles in English language were included. Boolean operators were used to search: “permanent teeth” OR “permanent tooth” OR “permanent dentition” AND “deep caries” OR “stepwise” AND “partial caries removal OR “stepwise caries removal” OR “pulp vitality” OR “healing rate”.

Study selection

Inclusion criteria were randomised controlled trials, which compared the total removal of carious tissue with either a selective or stepwise removal in permanent teeth with deep carious lesions. Criteria also required a follow up of at least 6 months and publications in English. Exclusion criteria were articles in other languages, articles not comparing different types of total or selective caries removal and articles published before January 2008.

Data extraction and synthesis

Data extraction followed PRISMA guidelines. Two reviewers independently screened articles, analysing titles and abstracts using Rayyan’s Intelligent Systematic Review Platform. They also collected data and risk of bias assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for Randomised Trials, dividing articles into high risk of bias, few concerns and low risk of bias. A third researcher resolved conflict or doubt in case of divided opinions.


In total, 105 articles were identified, and 10 duplicates removed. 95 articles were reviewed by title and abstract and 75 of these did not meet the inclusion criteria. 20 articles were then read, excluding a further 15 due to comparing only partial removal or non-selective caries removal or absence of numerical data. This left 5 articles which met eligibility criteria. These were randomised controlled trials between 2010 and 2021. Follow up ranged from 1 month to 5 years. The inclusion and exclusion criteria in all studies had similar clinical parameters. 3 studies performed management only on permanent molars, whilst the rest also included management on permanent incisors/canines/premolars and molars. Management of caries was divided into non-selective caries removal vs partial caries removal (either selective or stepwise). All but 2 studies included specific information about the materials used. Liners were calcium hydroxide or Dycal, provisional restorations were glass ionomer cements or Ketax Molar and definitive restorations were Herculite Tetric N-Ceram resin, Ivolclar Vivadent or amalgam. Clinical success or failure was measured using pulp vitality, absence of periapical lesions, radiographic analysis and lack of symptoms. Clinical follow up was evaluated by external examiners, although 2 studies did not specify this clearly. There were a variety of tools used for statistical analysis in each study.


When comparing non-selective caries removal with either selective or stepwise, 3 studies proposed statistically significant differences in terms of longevity, marginal integrity and success rate of restorations. 1 study stated inexistence of statistically relevant divergences between procedures. Non-selective caries removal is not highly recommended for deep carious lesions and may be considered invasive and risks pulpal exposure. Both selective and stepwise removal are considered conservative approaches. Selective removal is considered the best management option in the short term (with 1.5 years follow up), predominantly related to a lower risk of pulpal exposure. At 5 years, however, the results of selective were similar to those of non-selective, accepting the null hypothesis. There were also no differences in success rates for materials used for definitive restorations.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline Fraser.

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Fraser, J., MacInnes, A. Which caries removal method to select?. Evid Based Dent 25, 29–30 (2024).

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