Dentists are testing a painless method of dealing with rotten teeth that dispenses with the drill.
And while the technique works only on milk teeth, experts say it could eventually be used on adults.
The results of pilot studies have been so promising that the UK’s NHS has pumped £3 million into a nationwide study of the technique, which involves sealing decay in, rather than scraping it out.
The decayed part of the tooth is removed using the drill and the hole packed with filling.
Under the Hall technique, named after Aberdeenshire dentist Norna Hall, no effort is made to remove the decay.
Instead, a metal crown is simply slipped over the tooth and cemented in place.
No anaesthetic is needed and, starved of bacteria and oxygen, the decay stops or slows down to such a rate that it doesn’t cause pain.
The tooth is sealed off before the decay starts to cause pain and the crown stays in place until it falls out naturally with the tooth, at around the age of 10.
Nicola Innes, a lecturer in paediatric dentistry at Dundee University, said: ‘The Hall technique is now taught as a standard part of the undergraduate programme in almost all dental schools.’
In a two-year trial of 132 children aged between three and ten, children, parents and dentists all preferred the Hall technique.
Teeth treated this way also caused fewer problems in the future.
The technique is suitable only for baby teeth because the teeth will fall out within a relatively short period of time, making managed decline an option that is not available for teeth expected to last throughout our adult lives.
Dentists are believed to be working on a version of the technique that can be used on adults.