Fighting cavities without the drill

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: January 21st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Is there a sound more cringe-inducing than a dentist’s drill? That shrill whine is enough to send shivers down even the most stoic patient’s spine. But you may hear that drill less and less as dentists discover new and better ways to treat tooth decay.

Instead of using the dreaded drill to fill a cavity, some dentists are now using a new procedure where the tooth is painted with a coat of mild acid to clear away the decayed enamel. As soon as the goop is flushed out, a clear resin is applied to fill the lesion. The patient doesn’t even need any Novacain.

Quick, easy and relatively painless. The catch? It can only be used on mid-sized cavities. If the lesion is too large, it will have to be filled… and drilled… the old fashioned way. Still, this is good news for the faint of heart. In the past, there was no way to treat these medium-sized holes beyond waiting for them to grow large enough to fill.

In addition to pleasing patients, dentists hope using the resin will extend the life of the tooth. However, because this treatment is so new, it’s unclear how the resin will hold up in the long run. Studies have shown that this procedure fails to prevent tooth decay from advancing in about fifteen percent of cases.

The best way to avoid the dentist’s drill? Don’t get any cavities! If a dentist can catch signs of tooth decay quickly enough, a lesion can be avoided by forgoing soda and other sugary drinks, brushing better and using a fluoride toothpaste.

Remember these simple guidelines from the American Dental Association to keep your mouth as healthy as it can be. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Drink more water and avoid sweets. And remember to visit the dentist at least twice a year.