Drill-free filling technique could be used around the country after successful trial.
Researchers may have solved the problem of children's fear of dental treatment: don't use the drill.
A trial of a new drill-free technique on the decayed baby molars of patients aged 5 to 8 found that these children experienced less dental anxiety than those treated conventionally.
The so-called Hall technique, named after its Scottish developer, involves cementing a stainless steel crown over a decayed primary molar, rather than drilling out the decay and packing a filling into the hole.
The process of decay stops or slows down because it is starved of nutrients by the crown. The crown stays in place until it falls out naturally with the tooth.
Otago University dental public health specialist Dr Lyndie Foster Page and children's dentist Dorothy Boyd trained 10 Hawkes Bay dental therapists in how to use the new technique for a study on the feasibility of its widespread use. A larger study is now planned.
Nearly 100 children had crowns placed in the feasibility study and 90 in a comparison group had standard treatment.
Ninety per cent of the crowns group reported enjoying their dental clinic visit, in contrast to just 52 per cent of the comparison group.
"If children don't fear going to the dentist, we believe they'll be more inclined to go regularly for check-ups when they are adolescents and adults, but there's more work to do to understand exactly why the children said they preferred the new technique," said Dr Foster Page.
The Health Ministry's chief dental officer, Dr Robyn Haisman-Welsh, said the study, funded by the Health Research Council, was to assess the suitability of using the Hall technique in New Zealand.
"Based on the findings we expect that the technique may be taken up by other district health boards."
The Hall technique
* Used on children's primary molars.
* Don't drill decay.
* Instead cap the tooth with a crown.
* No pain-relief injections required.