Conservative dentistry is the branch of restorative dental medicine concerned with the treatment of teeth affected by caries, with procedures for the removal of caries and with procedures for closing the cavities resulting from the removal of enamel and of the caries-affected dentine using suitable materials.
Caries may occur on the surface or deep down. In the former case, treatment is limited to removing the affected parts of dentine and enamel and filling the tooth with a suitable material (silver amalgam or composites).
The use of silver amalgam has now been substituted by composite materials as their adhesive characteristics allow a less ample preparation of the caries-affected cavity compared to when using amalgam, where special measures are needed to ensure retention. In the case of deep caries, the tooth pulp may have been affected. If the nerve fibres have been affected, root-canal treatment or devitalization will be used.
The term ‘conservative’ indicates the treatment objective: that of conserving the teeth parts not destroyed by the caries.
Modern conservative dentistry
Modern conservative dentistry is based on the concept of minimal invasiveness, with the removal of only the caries-affected tissue and its substitution with a restoration material that is bound to the healthy tissue. Over recent years, silver amalgams (which required a more extensive preparation for their retention) have been virtually abandoned in favour of composites.