No More Drill at the Dentist's Office? Study Shows This Treatment is Effective for Cavities

Silver diamine fluoride treatment is less invasive than the traditional "drill and fill."

<p>Blend Images - Peathegee Inc / Getty Images</p>

Blend Images - Peathegee Inc / Getty Images

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

A few weeks ago, I took my 5-year-old son to the dentist and learned there’s a new option for the prevention and treatment of cavities in kids. It’s less invasive, yet just as effective as the scary drill we all dread.

Now, a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics looks at silver diamine fluoride (SDF), shining new light on what the treatment is all about. The good news for parents and kids is that when it comes to a common problem—cavities—the fear factor may be a thing of the past.

First, it’s important to know that cavities happen in about half of all kids between 6 and 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Phew! My son is not alone in developing what dentists call "caries," or tooth decay.

Second, SDF is FDA-approved, per the American Dental Association, and carries little risk when used on baby teeth. So let’s dig more into what this treatment is and whether it's right for your kiddo.

What Does the Study Tell Us About SDF?

Researchers looked at 7,418 kids in New York City schools. Each child was assigned either traditional sealants or SDF, followed by a fluoride varnish. In the end, researchers determined that the SDF was a non-inferior treatment when used as a primary intervention for tooth decay in school-aged kids—in other words, just as good.

I talked to study author Ryan Richard Ruff, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion at the New York University College of Dentistry. As he explains to Parents, “Our study suggests that silver diamine fluoride (SDF) can prevent and control caries, with effects being similar to dental sealants.”

Dr. Ruff adds, “We are particularly interested in the use of SDF as an innovative approach to increase access to dental care for children through school and community-based caries prevention. In fact, our results also indicate that nurses can effectively administer SDF.”

There's even more good news according to Dr. Ruff. “Overall, SDF use has been increasing in dental offices, with pediatric dentists being more likely to use it than general dentists," he explains. "Additionally, primary care providers—physicians, nurses—are also starting to use SDF in family medical practices.”

What Does SDF Treatment Look Like?

This all sounds good, but as parents, you might be wondering what this type of treatment looks like. Denver, Colorado-based cosmetic and general dentist Mike Woods, DDS of Signature Dentistry of Arvada, explains to Parents what is involved in the SDF treatment.

Assessment: When you bring your child in for a dental checkup, the dentist checks their teeth and looks for any spots that might need SDF. They might use X-rays or just take a good look.

Preparation: Before putting on the SDF, the dentist ensures the tooth is clean by removing plaque. This makes it easier for the SDF to do its job and protect the tooth.

Application: Using a small brush or applicator, the dentist carefully paints the SDF solution onto the needed spots. This solution contains silver ions that kill bacteria and prevent cavities. It also contains fluoride to strengthen the tooth.

Protection: To keep things clean, the dentist might add a special coating like fluoride varnish or dental sealant to the treated tooth. This helps prevent staining and keeps the SDF from getting on other parts of the mouth.

That’s it! No drill, no numbing the area, and no mom in the corner, taking deep breaths and trying not to cry. Just me? In any event, of course, this treatment is not without a few possible side effects.

Are There Potential Risks With SDF Treatment?

The only thing to be aware of when you choose SDF for your child’s treatment plan is that there may be slight staining. "If used to arrest or control caries, it can cause dental staining when applied to the cavity,” Dr. Ruff explains.

For this reason, SDF is typically used on baby teeth, that fall out, or posterior teeth, where you wouldn’t see the staining. “If used on sound, healthy teeth to prevent caries, there is no staining,” Dr. Ruff says.

Kids who have allergies to the components of SDF, silver or fluoride, would not be candidates for the treatment, per Dr. Woods, who adds, “Children with open sores or ulcerations in their mouths may not be suitable candidates for SDF treatment due to the potential for irritation or discomfort.”

Ultimately, Dr. Ruff says about SDF, “It's an attractive alternative, as many children experience fear or pain from the traditional ‘drill and fill’ approach for cavities.”

Related: These Five Dental Products Actually Get My 5-Year-Old Excited to Brush Her Teeth—They Start at $3

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Read the original article on Parents.