Scanning Microscopy


Carious lesions are usually studied using light microscopy and/or microradiography which require preparation of thin sections. Backscattered scanning electron microscopy (BSEM) has received little attention although it provides information similar to that obtained with microradiographs, with the potential for higher resolution. Recently, microscopes have been introduced that can be used to study wet or nonconducting specimens, offering techniques for studying specimens without desiccation or preparation of thin sections. This investigation sought to determine if secondary carious lesions have the same characteristics when studied by microradiography as when using the "wet" BSEM mode. Microradiographs were made of thin sections from restored teeth with secondary caries induced in an artificial caries system. The thin sections were also studied by BSEM with a partial pressure in the specimen chamber to prevent specimen charging. Comparisons of the lesion size and shape were made using the two methods. Lesion depth measurements in enamel were the same; lesions that penetrated into dentin appeared to be of similar size and shape, but lesion depths measured by BSEM were slightly greater (paired t-test, p < .05). This was a result of cracks at the carious enamel-dentin interface that probably developed during storage of the samples.

Variations in the surface enamel rod structure and the development of subsurface lesions were apparent. Several zones were also apparent in the carious dentin, demonstrating loss of dentinal tubule detail in the depth of the lesion, collapse of tubules, and hypermineralized regions near the advancing front of the lesion. Several additional samples of natural carious teeth were examined. They demonstrated the characteristic structural features of the carious process. This method appears to have considerable promise for the study of such lesions.

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