Although visual inspection is the most commonly used method for caries detection, and consequently the most investigated, studies have not been concerned about the clinical relevance of this procedure. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review in order to perform a critical evaluation considering the clinical relevance and methodological quality of studies on the accuracy of visual inspection for assessing caries lesions. Two independent reviewers searched several databases through July 2013 to identify papers/articles published in English. Other sources were checked to identify unpublished literature. The eligible studies were those which (1) assessed the accuracy of the visual method for detecting caries lesions on occlusal, approximal or smooth surfaces, in primary or permanent teeth, (2) used a reference standard, and (3) reported data about sample size and accuracy of the methods. Aspects related to clinical relevance and the methodological quality of the studies were evaluated. 96 of the 5,578 articles initially identified met the inclusion criteria. In general, most studies failed in considering some clinically relevant aspects: only 1 included study validated activity status of lesions, no study considered its prognosis, 79 studies did not consider a clinically relevant outcome, and only 1 evaluated a patient-centred outcome. Concerning methodological quality, the majority of the studies presented a high risk of bias in sample selection. In conclusion, studies on the accuracy of the visual method for caries detection should consider clinically relevant outcomes besides accuracy; moreover, they should be conducted with higher methodological quality, mainly regarding sample selection.

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