dental health

A New Treatment Helps to Fill Kids' Cavities Pain-Free

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Getting a cavity filled is no fun. There can be pain, shots, numbing, and the harrowing sound of the drill. But a kinder, gentler way to care for kids with cavities is being tested. And the only tool required is a small paintbrush.

Five-year-old Skye is pretty happy for a kid who just had a cavity treated 30 minutes earlier. She's part of a study testing silver diamine fluoride, or SDF, a treatment to stop cavities in children.

"So, this is a liquid that contains fluoride, silver and a high pH liquid and it's going to stop the cavities from progressing in the teeth," said University of Michigan School of Dentistry Professor, Margherita Fontana.

Instead of the dreaded drill, the tooth is brushed and dried. Then the liquid SDF is painted on for ten seconds. There are minimal, if any, side effects.

"She was able to drink and eat something within minutes of walking out of the appointment and playing," said Bethany Mattson about her daughter after the treatment.

"It makes my teeth feel sparkly," said Mattson's daughter, Skye.

About one-quarter of kids aged 2 to 5-years-old have cavities, half of the kids aged 6 and 8-years-old do, and it's often higher in minority and lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"It's a very cheap alternative treatment and it opens the opportunity of access to care to a variety of different groups of the population who might benefit from treatments for cavities," Fontana said.

Children get treatments every few months, for eight months total. Every time Skye visited; she got a treat of her own, a goody bag of toys. A sort of a silver lining, to her silver treatment.

SDF costs about $20, compared to hundreds for a traditional filling. It's covered by some insurance plans. SDF was approved to treat sensitivity in 2014, but not cavities. Besides Michigan, the study is taking place in Iowa and New York and will last through 2024. So far, close to 600 kids have participated. The researchers are hoping for a total of 1,200.

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