No one likes going to the dentist, and dealing with the pain of cavities and the distress of drilling are especially difficult for children. The CDC reports that over half of kids have had a cavity in their baby teeth. Will there ever be a time when cavities are dental history? We may be on the way.

A team of researchers from New York University (NYU) has identified an effective and affordable cavity-preventing solution. The treatment uses a liquid called silver diamine fluoride (SDF) which not only prevents cavities, but also shields existing ones from getting worse. The liquid has been around for a decade, though it was originally approved by the FDA only to be used to reduce tooth sensitivity.

SDF works a lot like sealants, but with added benefits — mainly that it's more affordable.

SDF eliminates bacteria causing tooth decay and prevents further decay by promoting tooth remineralization.

“A growing body of research shows that SDF — which is quicker to apply and less expensive than sealants — can prevent and arrest cavities, reducing the need for drilling and filling,” Richard Niederman, the study's senior author and Professor of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at NYU's College of Dentistry said, in a statement.

SDF is applied directly to the surface of the teeth, enabling it to eliminate bacteria that cause decay. It also promotes the remineralization of teeth which is how it prevents further decay.

In a program called “CariedAway” the research team applied SDF and conventional sealants to almost 4,000 primary school kids in New York City. At the start of the study, almost one quarter of the kids had untreated cavities. The researchers followed up to look at how well the use of SDF worked compared to the more costly sealant.

The trial lasted two years. SDF was found to be just as effective as regular dental sealants. It also prevented 80 percent of cavities and stopped the advance of 50 percent of preexisting ones. As the study's first author, Richard Ruff, an associate professor of epidemiology and health promotion at NYU's College of Dentistry, put it, “ reaffirms that both sealants and SDF are effective against cavities. SDF is a promising alternative that can support school-based cavity prevention — not to replace the dental sealant model, but as another option that also prevents and arrests decay.”

There are many things parents do to help prevent their kids from developing tooth decay. In addition to trying to keep kids' sugary candy and drink consumption down, the CDC recommends:

  • Children's teeth should be brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Help your child brush their teeth until they have good brushing skills. If your child is younger than 6, watch them brush.
  • Have them drink tap water that contains fluoride.
  • Ask your child's dentist to apply dental sealants when appropriate.

The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.