Cavities are common in childhood, with approximately 40% of children experiencing one or more by five years old. In fact, dental caries are the most common chronic health disease in children. Even so, many parents are unaware of the importance of treating cavities that occur in baby teeth. Dental decay that is left untreated in the primary teeth can actually cause harm for the permanent teeth that lie just below the surface of the gums. Poor dental health that begins in infancy and toddlerhood can have long-term effects on a child’s smile, lasting into adolescence and even adulthood.

We understand that treating younger children or children with special needs can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. When putting off treatment is not ideal, silver diamine fluoride (SDF) can be another excellent option for some patients. Coppe + Sears offer this FDA-approved liquid antibiotic as an alternative method of treating tooth decay with noninvasive methods, particularly for children who still have their baby teeth.

What is silver diamine fluoride?

Silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is a non-invasive, cavity-fighting liquid medication that can be used to halt the progression of cavities. While it was originally approved by the FDA for tooth sensitivity, it is also useful for the treatment of tooth decay. The active ingredient in this treatment is silver, which is well known for its powerful antimicrobial properties. It also strengthens the underlying protective layer of the teeth known as dentin. The other primary component is fluoride, which halts tooth decay and helps to prevent additional decay from appearing.

Doctor working on a patient

What is the process of silver diamine fluoride treatment?

According to reports from the CDC, almost 20% of children aged 2-19 have untreated cavities. Children who are younger or those who have special needs may not be able to handle routine restorative dental care. Silver diamine fluoride is applied in under a minute using a gentle brush on the teeth, and includes no numbing or drilling, making it an excellent choice for very small or anxious children. It can also be used on baby teeth that are close to falling out, sparing patients more invasive dental treatment while still protecting the teeth from harmful bacteria.

The treatment itself is a simple process. Using a microbrush, the dentist will apply a small amount of 38% silver diamine fluoride to any teeth with visible cavities, and the solution will be light-cured at the initial application. Once the tooth has been treated, patients should avoid eating and drinking for at least an hour in order for it to fully cure. A second application will be scheduled for approximately 3-5 weeks after the initial application. During both applications, a 5% sodium fluoride varnish will be used to seal the silver diamine fluoride onto the treated tooth to arrest the progress of the decay. These procedures may be followed up with home fluoride therapy, such as an ACT rinse.

When is treatment with silver diamine fluoride recommended?

Silver diamine fluoride is a particularly effective treatment for children with cavities that are not able to be treated all at once, as well as children with special needs or those who are unable to sit for longer treatments. Coppe + Sears may also recommend silver diamine fluoride for children who have severe early childhood caries (excessive decay) or younger children who have difficulty cooperating for treatment.

What are the benefits of silver diamine fluoride?

There are multiple benefits to this treatment method, including:

  • a non-invasive technique
  • painless
  • quick treatment time
  • effective prevention of cavities
  • can stop tooth decay
  • may relieve tooth sensitivity

Are there any side effects associated with silver diamine fluoride?

As with any treatment, there is a chance of side effects with silver diamine fluoride treatment, with staining being the most obvious. Healthy tooth surfaces remain undisturbed, but the tooth decay, which is usually already brown in color, turns very dark after application. The dark discoloration is the main criterion checked during follow-up appointments in order to know that the treatment was effective. Stained tooth structures can be replaced with a filling or crown.

If the silver diamine fluoride is applied to the skin or gums, a harmless brown or white stain may appear on the affected area. It cannot be washed away, but is only temporary, and should disappear within one to three weeks. Some patients have reported a metallic taste after application, but this dissipates rapidly.

Coppe + Sears staff members talking with a family

Silver diamine fluoride treatment with the experts at Coppe + Sears

Even though silver diamine fluoride has been proven effective in treating and preventing tooth decay, its use does not mean a patient will not ever need dental fillings or crowns in order to restore function or appearance. In many cases, we are able to use silver diamine fluoride when children are very young, and then focus on restoring the teeth with more conventional treatment at a later date. The use of silver diamine fluoride buys the patient some time until more traditional dental methods can be utilized.

Silver diamine fluoride is a safe, effective treatment that can help our younger patients maintain a healthy smile for life. Coppe + Sears have a talented team well-versed in treating infants, children, and adolescents, and we have experience treating patients with special needs as well. We are proud to provide a positive dental experience for families in Lexington and the surrounding area. Treatment with silver diamine fluoride is one way we are able to achieve happy, healthy smiles for our patients. Get in touch with us today to learn more about the treatments we offer, or to request an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you!