Baltimore, MD – While children usually leave the dentist with a sticker or even a lollipop, adults often leave the office sore from scraping and drilling. Now, a Maryland school has joined other dentists around the world in replacing these invasive drilling procedures with fluoride.

According to NPR, fluoride plays a crucial role in fighting off the bacteria and plaque that can lead to tooth decay. Commonly used with children, fluoride is now helping older patients with specific circumstances that make them more likely to develop cavities.

“OK, Alice, we are going to put the fluoride varnish on your teeth,” Marion Manski, director of the dental hygiene program at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, tells her patient. Alice, who is 91 years old, is taking a medication that causes chronic dry mouth, which heightens her risk of developing tooth decay.

“We know that saliva helps us wash away bacteria and food in the mouth,” Manski said. “The fluoride varnish will help that.”

Drilling used to be one of the only options for adults suffering from tooth decay, but many international dentists have followed the University of Maryland’s lead by administering fluoride treatments instead.  About 74% of adults believe an unattractive smile can hurt their chances at career success, and fluoride has already helped to restore millions of smiles around the globe.

“These preventative approaches work on adults just as well as they do on children,” said Norman Tinanoff, a professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Maryland. He added that fluoride enables dentists to individualize treatment plans for each patient depending on which stage of tooth decay they are in.

As noted, municipal water supplies in the U.S. and U.K. contain added fluoride, and people living in underdeveloped countries are much more likely to develop cavities than their peers.

By administering fluoride on an individual basis, dentists can specify every aspect of the treatment based on factors such as: dietary habits, pre-existing medical conditions, saliva flow, and history of tooth decay. John Featherstone, dean of the San Francisco School of Dentistry, has been a proponent of fluoride for several years for this very reason.

“It really proved that drilling and filling did not fix the disease,” Featherstone said of the new focus on fluoride treatment for adults. “Putting in a filling fixes that hole in the tooth, but it doesn’t deal with the bacteria in the rest of the mouth.”

Featherstone added that two-thirds of U.S. dental schools have already begun to adopt and teach this new practice, which could make drilling almost obsolete in the near future.