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New dental treatment can stop tooth decay with one drop, no drilling or injections required

If you’re queasy about a dental treatment that involves drilling and shots, you’d be glad to know that there’s already a less invasive alternative that’s being explored in the dental community.

It’s called silver diamine fluoride, an element that dentists refer to as a “fantastic” new tool that can stop tooth cavity from progressing with a single drop.

SDF isn’t a new discovery. In fact, it has been used for decades in other countries, but it was only recently approved in the U.S. Aside from being less invasive, this dental treatment is also much more affordable than a traditional filling.

The population who would probably benefit most from this straightforward approach are children, the elderly, and people with various illnesses who may be more challenging to treat.

Dr. Matthew Messina, clinic director at Ohio State Upper Arlington Dentistry and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, spoke to TODAY and said that he thinks SDF is “pretty neat stuff” and that he’s “excited.”

“Anytime I don’t have to pick up the drill, patients are happy,” he said.

SDF contains 25% silver, 8% ammonia, 5% fluoride, and 62% water. Silver helps kill bacteria, while the fluoride re-mineralizes the teeth.
It has been approved in by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for tooth hypersensitivity in 2014, but it has been widely used “off-label” in kids and adults to halt tooth decay.

Another great thing about this dental treatment is that it doesn’t require any tooth preparation—no drills or shots of anesthesia. It’s practically painless, which is an important feature for kids or anyone who dreads the needle. Seniors in nursing homes, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, or those who have difficulty getting to a dentist will also greatly benefit from this option.

SDF won’t hurt your wallet either. The average application fee per tooth is $20-$25 or about one-tenth the cost of a traditional filling, according to the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors. Many dental insurance companies reimburse for it and at least half of state Medicaid plans, according to Dr. Amr Moursi, chair of the pediatric dentistry department at the New York University College of Dentistry.

SDF works by killing the bacteria that is causing the cavity upon contact. It also strengthens the tooth area where it’s applied, which means that spot will no longer be sensitive to sweet, cold, or crunchy foods.

“It stops the cavity from progressing. It doesn’t make it better, but it does keep it from continuing to grow larger and deeper where it can get into the pulp where the blood vessels and nerves are,” Dr. Moursi said.

As good as this treatment is, some people might be put off by the SDF turning the cavity permanently black. This might be an issue, especially if the problem area is located in the front teeth. However, any healthy part of the tooth will not be affected by this color change.

Almost 80% of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association in 2017 said they haven’t used SDF, so don’t expect your practitioner to bring it up on their own. If you want to try this route, first ask your dentist if you’re a suitable candidate for it.

Experts say the SDF treatment will probably see a rise in popularity since facilities are leaning towards more aerosol-free dentistry because of COVID-19.

“It’s a paradigm shift for dentists as well, but it’s something that offers such an opportunity,” Dr. Messina said. “It’s not perfect. Nothing is the ‘be all, end all, fixes everything’ answer, but it certainly gives us some things that we weren’t able to do before.”

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