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Drop the drill? New treatment helps treat kids' cavities without invasive procedures

Posted at 5:00 AM, May 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 08:01:40-04

In the last year, ABC15 has reported on some heartbreaking stories of children losing their lives in the dental chair.

It's enough to make any parent push for less invasive alternatives, and one option to skip the drills, is likely already available at your kid's dental office -- it's called silver diamine flouride.

The treatment has been used in other countries for decades, but only recently approved by the FDA.

"Most parents don't know about it, because it's fairly new," one north Phoenix dentist tells us.

And one of the best parts: it's quick. Application time is 60 seconds, and that is not the only appeal.

"It is very cost-effective and also it alleviates the need for drilling and filling, and shots and local anesthesia," says this dentist.

The American Dental Association endorses the use of SDF to arrest decay in primary teeth.

It does leave a black spot, so depending on the cavity's location, aesthetics might be a consideration.

"The black stain is the major downside. Medically, though, no downsides. There's been no reported adverse events, at all," she says, going on to say most dental offices are charging only $25 to $60 per tooth while a traditional filling is closer to $200.

"It's definitely way cheaper even if the insurance isn't picking it up," says one Valley mom.

Twenty-one percent of kids do experience tooth decay, and it's even higher for lower-income families.

While the silver diamine flouride treatment is so new that a lot of insurers are not picking it up yet, even out-of-pocket, full price SDF seems to often be cheaper than a covered traditional filling.

What's more, one study looked at Medicaid claims of 1- to 5-year-olds. If just half chose SDF, it would save states millions per year, according to the study.

Only 19 states currently reimburse for this procedure, and Arizona has now become one of them.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry is hoping other states will follow suit.

They believe this should be used to postpone, or lower the need for surgical treatment.

And they want health care advocates promoting this now.