The Future of Dental Care: New Treatment May Ease Concerns, Improve Oral Health

Mother and daughter brushing daughter's teeth

People often put off visiting the dentist Many adults, and especially children, worry about dental pain and the sounds of dental tools. But a new dental treatment may ease some of these concerns. Here are five things to know.

Caring for your teeth

Most Americans know it’s important to take care of their teeth. They try to remember to brush and floss their teeth daily and watch the consumption of candy and sweets. But despite these efforts, tooth decay remains a public health issue.

Tooth decay is a prevalent chronic disease in both adults and children. Nearly 90 percent of adults have cavities. And 42 percent of kids ages 2 to 11 have decay in their primary teeth. Scheduling regular dental checkups and cleanings can help keep dental decay and disease under control. But many people wait until they have tooth pain to schedule a dental visit.

Treating decay

For years, dentists have treated tooth decay by cleaning out the cavity using dental tools. Then they fill the cavity with a dental composite to restore the tooth for daily use. Now some dentists are

Young child getting teeth inspected at dentist

using silver nitrate to stop decay and heal the tooth.

Silver nitrate is a prescription topical solution with anti-infection properties. It’s often used to treat wounds and burns. Researchers discovered silver nitrate also is effective in treating cavities that h

ave not reached the tooth pulp. The silver enters the inner part of the tooth around the decay and strengthens and hardens the tooth.

The dentist paints silver nitrate over the decay and seals the area with a fluoride varnish. The silver nitrate disinfects and hardens the cavity, stopping the decay process. Silver nitrate can stain teeth. However, dentists can easily cover the stains with a tooth-colored material.

Improving kids’ oral health

Dentists primarily have used silver nitrate to treat kids with tooth decay. Kids often are afraid to visit the dentist. They see the bright lights and hear the sounds of the tools and worry what willhappen. Using silver nitrate on decay is a quick and painless process. Since it’s applied to the outside of the tooth, kids do not experience pain, so they don’t need sedation. In recent years, dental experts have voiced concerns about using sedation for kids’ dental procedures, because of the risk of side effects (even death).

Guy smiling with a tennis ball and racket

Treating decay in older adults

Many older adults suffer from tooth decay. As people age, their hands can become stiff and immobile, so they cannot brush and floss their teeth. They also struggle with the side effects of medications dentists use to deaden their teeth for dental procedures. Some dentists report that using silver nitrate on the teeth of older adults is an effective way to control decay and plaque.

Ongoing research

Dental researchers continue to study the use of silver nitrate for dental treatments. They want to learn why silver nitrate is effective in treating some cavities, but not all tooth decay.


Everyday Health
National Institutes of Health