Could the Dentist's Drill Be Going Away?

Even high-risk patients saw an 80 percent reduction in cavity fillings thanks to changes in dental care. (Photo: fotofeel/Shutterstock)

If the thought of going to the dentist sends chills of terror down your spine, you will be happy to know that there are changes afoot that may make the dentist's chair a less frightening place. New research out of Australia suggests changes to dental care management that would reduce the need for frequent drilling.

A seven-year study conducted at the University of Sydney found that alternative methods of tooth decay prevention could go a long way toward reducing the need for the drill. Lead researcher Wendell Evans suggests a "caries management system," that dentist can employ in lieu of the standard "drill and fill" method of treatment.

According to Evans, tooth decay does not happen nearly as quickly as dentists previously thought. His research showed that it can take anywhere from four to eight years for decay to move from the outer layer of the tooth — or the enamel — to the inner layer, or dentin. During this period, changes in the way the teeth are cared for and monitored can significantly slow down and even reverse the process of decay.

Evans' no-drill recommendations include advising patients on more effective methods of brushing; asking patients to cut down on between-meal snacking; and closely monitoring patients at subsequent visits for signs of advancing decay. According to his research, patients who were cared for using these methods were 30 to 50 percent less likely to need the drill. And high-risk patients, those who previously needed as many as two fillings a year, saw an 80 percent reduction in the need for drilling.

Another added plus to the no-drill approach is that it may actually get people to visit their dentist more regularly — particularly those who have been avoiding the chair due to a drill phobia. And that benefit on its own could go a long way toward improving the dental health of many patients.