Getting a cavity filled is the same drill: you receive a local anesthetic for pain, then the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. This is an effective treatment protocol that has been used for well over a century.

However, this process does have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn’t cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.

Luckily there are advances in dental tools, technology and techniques that are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in the early stages. By doing this, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we’re beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intra-oral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it’s visible to the naked eye.
  2. Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it’s undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
  3. Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We’re also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don’t require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.

These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you’re in the dentist’s chair.