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A Cavity-Fighting Liquid Lets Kids Avoid Dentists’ Drills

Young boy in a dental surgery


Nobody looks forward to having a cavity drilled and filled by a dentist. Now there’s an alternative: an antimicrobial liquid that can be brushed on cavities to stop tooth decay — painlessly.

The liquid is called silver diamine fluoride, or S.D.F. It’s been used for decades in Japan, but it’s been available in the United States, under the brand name Advantage Arrest, for just about a year.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared silver diamine fluoride for use as a tooth desensitizer for adults 21 and older. But studies show it can halt the progression of cavities and prevent them, and dentists are increasingly using it off-label for those purposes.

“The upside, the great one, is you don’t need to drill and you don’t need an injection,” said Dr. Margherita Fontana, a professor of cariology at the University of Michigan.

Silver diamine fluoride is already used in hundreds of dental offices. Medicaid patients in Oregon are receiving the treatment, and at least 18 dental schools have started teaching the next generation of pediatric dentists how to use it.

Dr. Richard Niederman, the chairman of the epidemiology and health promotion department at the New York University College of Dentistry, said, “Being able to paint it on in 30 seconds with no noise, no drilling, is better, faster, cheaper.”

“I would encourage parents to ask for it,” he added. “It’s less trauma for the kid.”

The main downside is aesthetic: Silver diamine fluoride blackens the brownish decay on a tooth. That may not matter on a back molar or a baby tooth that will fall out, but some patients are likely to be deterred by the prospect of a dark spot on a visible tooth.

Until more insurers cover it, patients also have to cover the cost. Still, it’s relatively inexpensive. Dr. Michelle Urschel, an anesthesiologist, was happy to pay $25 to have Dr. Jeanette MacLean, a pediatric dentist in Glendale, Ariz., paint over a cavity that her son Knox, 4, had recently developed.

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