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Dentists are testing kinder, gentler way to fill kids’ cavities

Getting a cavity filled is no fun. It's uncomfortable, numbing, and the awful sound of the drill. This new way of treating cavities requires only one tool, a tiny paintbrush.

DETROIT – 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,” explained Dr. Margherita Fontana

Instead of using the dreaded drill, the tooth is brushed and dried. Then the liquid SDF is painted on for 10 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,” Skye’s mother, Bethany Mattson, said.

“It makes my teeth feel sparkly,” Skye herself said of the procedure.

About one-quarter of kids aged 2 to 5 have cavities. Half of children aged 6 and 8 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 for treatments for cavities,” Fontana says of the new treatment.

The kids 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.