A Cheaper Way to Protect Kids' Teeth From Cavities

By   |  March 5, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, March 5, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- A cheap cavity-fighting liquid typically used to treat sensitive teeth appears to work as well as dental sealants in preventing tooth decay, a new study finds.

A single treatment of either silver diamine fluoride (SDF) or a typical dental sealant prevented 80% of cavities for four years among thousands of New York City elementary schoolchildren, researchers report March 4 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The treatments also kept 50% of existing cavities from worsening during the same period of time.

The study “reaffirms that both sealants and SDF are effective against cavities,” said lead researcher Ryan Richard Ruff, an assistant professor of epidemiology and health promotion at the NYU School of Dentistry.

SDF’s advantage is that it can be applied by school nurses as well as dental hygienists, potentially expanding the number of kids who could receive such protective care while in class, Ruff said.

“Nurses may be an untapped resource for addressing oral health inequities,” Ruff added in a university news release. “Our results suggest that nurses can effectively provide this preventive care, which could dramatically improve access, given the role of school nurses and the size of the nursing workforce.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes and funds school-based sealant programs, in which dental professionals visit kids at elementary schools to apply a thin, protective coating that hardens teeth and protects them against decay, researchers said in background notes.

The CDC estimates that each tooth sealed saves more than $11 in dental treatment costs. Applying sealants at school to the nearly 7 million low-income children who lack such dental care could prevent more than 3 million cavities and save up to $300 million in dental costs.

Unfortunately, these programs can only succeed in preventing cavities if there are enough health professionals available to apply the cavity-fighting substances.

For the study, 4,100 New York City kids received either SDF or a sealant at their elementary school twice a year. More than a quarter of the kids had untreated cavities at the start of the study.

Sealants were applied by dental hygienists, while SDF was applied by either a dental hygienist or a registered nurse. All operated under the supervision of a dentist.

“Most research shows that SDF can stop a cavity from progressing further. Our study demonstrated that SDF can prevent cavities from happening in the first place,” said researcher Dr. Tamarinda Barry Godín, a research scientist at NYU College of Dentistry.

What’s more, kids who had SDF applied by either a dental hygienist or a registered nurse did just as well, suggesting that school nurses could play a crucial role in cavity prevention programs.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more about school dental sealant programs.

SOURCE: New York University, news release, March 4, 2024