Epidemiology: The DMF Index

The Decayed, Missing, Filled (DMF) index has been used for almost 80 years and is well established as the key measure of caries experience in dental epidemiology.5 The DMF Index is applied to the permanent dentition and is expressed as the total number of teeth or surfaces that are decayed (D), missing (M), or filled (F) in an individual. When the index is applied to teeth specifically, it is called the DMFT index, and scores per individual can range from 0 to 28 or 32, depending on whether the third molars are included in the scoring. When the index is applied only to tooth surfaces (five per posterior tooth and four per anterior tooth), it is called the DMFS index, and scores per individual can range from 0 to 128 or 148, depending on whether the third molars are included in the scoring.6

When written in lowercase letters, the dmf index is a variation that is applied to the primary dentition. The caries experience for a child is expressed as the total number of teeth or surfaces that are decayed (d), missing (m), or filled (f). The dmft index expresses the number of affected teeth in the primary dentition, with scores ranging from 0 to 20 for children. The dmfs index expresses the number of affected surfaces in primary dentition (five per posterior tooth and four per anterior tooth), with a score range of 0 to 88 surfaces. Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between teeth extracted due to caries and those that have naturally exfoliated, missing teeth may be ignored according to some protocols. In this case, it is called the df index.6

Calculating DMFT: The teeth not counted are unerupted teeth, congenitally missing teeth or supernumerary teeth, teeth removed for reasons other than dental caries, and primary teeth retained in the permanent dentition. Counting the third molars is optional. When a carious lesion(s) or both carious lesion(s) and a restoration are present, the tooth is recorded as a D. When a tooth has been extracted due to caries, it is recorded as an M. When a permanent or temporary filling is present, or when a filling is defective but not decayed, this is counted as an F. Teeth restored for reasons other than caries are not counted as an F.6

Calculating DMFS: There are five surfaces on the posterior teeth: facial, lingual, mesial, distal, and occlusal. There are four surfaces on anterior teeth: facial, lingual, mesial, and distal. The list of teeth not counted is the same as for DMFT calculations, and listing D, M, and F is also done in a similar way: When a carious lesion or both a carious lesion and a restoration are present, the surface is listed as a D. When a tooth has been extracted due to caries, it is listed as an M. When a permanent filling is present, or when a filling is defective but not decayed, this surface is counted as an F. Surfaces restored for reasons other than caries are not counted as an F. The total count is 128 or 148 surfaces.6

Calculating dmft and dmfs: For dmft, the teeth not counted are unerupted and congenitally missing teeth, and supernumerary teeth. The rules for recording d, m, and f are the same as for DMFT. The total count is 20 teeth. For dmfs, the teeth not counted are the same as for dmft. As with DMFS, there are five surfaces on the posterior teeth and four surfaces on the anterior teeth. The total count is 88 surfaces.6

Limitations of DMF Index: While DMF indices can provide powerful data and perspectives on dental caries, they also have some limitations. For one, researchers have noted a significant amount of inter-observer bias and variability.7 Other criticisms include that the values do not provide any indication as to the number of teeth at risk or data that is useful in estimating treatment needs; that the indices give equal weight to missing, untreated decay, or well-restored teeth; that the indices do not account for teeth lost for reasons other than decay (such as periodontal disease); and that they do not account for sealed teeth since sealants and other cosmetic restorations did not exist in the 1930s when this method was devised.8,9