In the past it was usual for dentists to use the explorer to probe teeth for the presence of cavities. Some dental professionals have questioned this practice in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The use of a sharp explorer to diagnose caries in pit and fissure sites is no longer recommended and clinicians instead should rely on "sharp eyes and a blunt explorer or probe." Penetration by a sharp explorer can actually cause cavitation in areas that are remineralizing or could be remineralized. Dental lesions initially develop as a subsurface lesion. Early lesions may be reversed - with meticulous patient self-care and application of fluoride - as long as the thin surface layer remains intact. The use of a dental explorer with firm pressure to probe suspicious areas may result in the rupture of the surface layer covering early lesions. Instead, they argue that fluoride and oral hygiene should be used to remineralize the enamel and prevent it from decaying further. This debate still continues because sometimes decay can be difficult to diagnose without tactile verification. Additionally, radiographs and other products designed to identify decay (such as measuring fluorescence from a laser) help the dental professional make a final diagnosis of tooth decay.
There are various types of explorers, though the most common one is the No. 23 explorer, which is also known as a "shepherd's hook". Other types include the 3CH (also known as "cowhorn" or "pigtail") and No. 17 explorers, which are useful for the interproximal areas between teeth.
The Tufts 17/23 Explorer, also known as the Wilken's Explorer, contains both No. 17 and No. 23 on the same instrument; opposite sides of each other.
- Summit, James B., J. William Robbins, and Richard S. Schwartz. "Fundamentals of Operative Dentistry: A Contemporary Approach." 2nd edition. Carol Stream, Illinois, Quintessence Publishing Co, Inc, 2001. ISBN 0-86715-382-2.
- George Stookey "USE OF AN EXPLORER CAN LEAD TO MISDIAGNOSIS AND DISRUPT REMINERALIZATION", The Journal of the American Dental Association, November 2005, accessed November 17, 2011.
- George Stookey "The Evolution of Caries Detection", 2003, Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, accessed November 17, 2011.
- Gehrig, Jill (2016). Fundamentals of Periodontal Instrumentation & Advanced Root Instrumentation (8th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-4963-2020-9.