Background: The atraumatic restorative treatment (ART) approach was born 25 years ago in Tanzania. It has evolved into an essential caries management concept for improving quality and access to oral care globally.
Results: Meta-analyses and systematic reviews have indicated that the high effectiveness of ART sealants using high-viscosity glass ionomers in carious lesion development prevention is not different from that of resin fissure sealants. ART using high-viscosity glass ionomer can safely be used to restore single-surface cavities both in primary and in permanent posterior teeth, but its quality in restoring multiple surfaces in primary posterior teeth cavities needs to be improved. Insufficient information is available regarding the quality of ART restorations in multiple surfaces in permanent anterior and posterior teeth. There appears to be no difference in the survival of single-surface high-viscosity glass-ionomer ART restorations and amalgam restorations.
Discussion: The use of ART results in smaller cavities and in high acceptance of preventive and restorative care by children. Because local anaesthesia is seldom needed and only hand instruments are used, ART is considered to be a promising approach for treating children suffering from early childhood caries. ART has been implemented in the public oral health services of a number of countries, and clearly, proper implementation requires the availability of sufficient stocks of good high-viscosity glass ionomers and sets of ART instruments right from the start. Textbooks including chapters on ART are available, and the concept is being included in graduate courses at dental schools in a number of countries. Recent development and testing of e-learning modules for distance learning has increasingly facilitated the distribution of ART information amongst professionals, thus enabling more people to benefit from ART. However, this development and further research require adequate funding, which is not always easily obtainable. The next major challenge is the continuation of care to the frail elderly, in which ART may play a part.
Conclusion: ART, as part of the Basic Package of Oral Care, is an important cornerstone for the development of global oral health and alleviating inequality in oral care.