You thought you were taking all the right steps to prevent your child from getting a cavity. You’ve helped them brush, floss and rinse twice a day, they only drink water and milk, and they hardly eat sugary treats. And yet, here you are – your child has a cavity and you don’t know what to do.
When it comes to your child’s teeth, drilling and filling cavities is not exactly something any parent wants for their kids if it can be avoided. However, until recently, there wasn’t another way to treat the situation. Now there’s an alternative that many parents and dentists are considering to treat tooth decay in kids, and it’s called silver diamine fluoride. Silver diamine fluoride is still a relatively new treatment, therefore, today we’re going to answer a few common questions and concerns about it so you can decide if it’s the right course of treatment for your child.
What Is Silver Diamine Fluoride?
Silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is a liquid medication that is applied topically to the teeth with a small brush or a special type of floss. This formula is 38 percent silver fluoride salt, which is made water-soluble by the addition of small amounts of ammonia which results in a liquid that dentists can easily paint onto teeth in a matter of seconds.
SDF has been widely utilized around the world for decades, however, it only received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 for treating dentin sensitivity. Therefore, for dentists to use it as a way to treat cavities means that it is being done “off-label.”
How Does SDF Work?
Silver Diamine Fluoride’s ability to slow down or stop dental decay comes from its two main ingredients: silver and fluoride.
Silver’s antibacterial properties have been known for centuries. It has a low toxicity, which makes it ideal for use in humans and (colloidal silver) is often considered an all-purpose remedy for various infections and illnesses. Meanwhile, fluoride also has antimicrobial properties and significantly increases the rate at which tooth enamel can be remineralized by saliva, while also increasing the enamel’s resistance to future degradation due to acids.
Together, these ingredients are used to stop tooth decay from progressing and keep the affected teeth stable until your dentist determines if further action is necessary. Particularly with kids, SDF helps harden the tooth structure that has been softened by decay and may allow a child to mature before proceeding with full treatment.
What are the risks or side effects?
The good news is that silver diamine fluoride treatment carries very little risks and virtually no side effects. However, it’s worth noting that the use of SDF will permanently blacken the infected area of treated teeth, which is why this treatment is typically only done on young children. When the silver in SDF is applied to a tooth, it oxidizes and leaves a black stain on the damaged cavity portion of the tooth. It may also temporarily stain any tissue surfaces it makes contact with such as the lip or gums. For children with baby teeth, the stains caused by SDF are temporary because these teeth will eventually fall out on their own. However, some parents would prefer to hide the staining with crowns.
There is always a small chance that if SDF comes in contact with oral tissues, that it will cause some irritation, but this irritation is quite mild and temporary. It should also be noted that if your child has a silver allergy, then this treatment should not be used. Otherwise, silver diamine fluoride safety is quite safe.
When and Why should SDF be used?
There are several situations in which SDF treatment may be utilized. For one, silver diamine fluoride has a very low financial impact (no more than $100 out of pocket) as compared to the cost of drilling and filling a cavity ($200-300). This makes it a great option for families on a tight budget.
Silver diamine fluoride may also be recommended if your child is very young to allow your child to age and mature enough to tolerate full treatment. Most 3-year-olds struggle to sit still for long periods of time in general, so sitting still for a dental procedure is a real stretch. SDF can slow down the progression of a cavity long enough that the child can later sit still for x-rays and lay still for fillings making it a very promising cavity treatment for children.
SDF is also a highly effective preventative measure that may stop teeth from decaying in the first place before sealants can be an option.
If your child has the beginnings of a cavity, let’s talk about SDF treatment. Call to make an appointment for the whole family to get their cleaning and screening appointments done before the new year. Also learn more about the complete list of services offered by Dr. Garrett by calling our office and scheduling a new patient appointment. We’d love to make your family part of ours!