OBJECTIVES: To (1) identify the methods that dentists in The Dental Practice-based Research Network (DPBRN) use to diagnose dental caries; (2) quantify their frequency of use, and (3) test the hypothesis that certain dentist and dental practice characteristics are significantly associated with their use. METHODS: A questionnaire about methods used for caries diagnosis was sent to DPBRN dentists who reported doing some restorative dentistry; 522 dentists participated. Questions included the use of dental radiographs, the dental explorer, laser fluorescence, air-drying and fiber-optic devices and magnification as used when diagnosing primary, secondary/recurrent or non-specific caries lesions. Variations on the frequency of their use were tested using multivariate analysis and Bonferroni tests. RESULTS: Overall, the dental explorer was the instrument most commonly used to detect primary occlusal caries and caries at the margins of existing restorations. In contrast, laser fluorescence was rarely used to help diagnose occlusal primary caries. For proximal caries, radiographs were used to help diagnose 75%-100% of lesions by 96% of the DPBRN dentists. Dentists who use radiographs most often to assess proximal surfaces of posterior teeth were significantly more likely to also report providing a higher percentage of patients with individualized caries prevention (p = .040) and seeing a higher percentage of pediatric patients (p = .001). CONCLUSION: The use of specific diagnostic methods varied substantially. The dental explorer and radiographs are still the most commonly used diagnostic methods.