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Silver diamine fluoride to treat cavities: Is it right for my child?

Here's what you need to know about a relatively new treatment for cavities.

Today's guest blogger is Michael J. Hanna, DMD, a pediatric dentist in Robinson Township, Pa. He is a national spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

It's a Tuesday morning and you're sitting at your pediatric dentist's office for your 2-year-old daughter's routine check-up, awaiting the update on her teeth. A couple minutes later, the pediatric dentist comes to speak with you, letting you know that she may have two cavities. In fact, almost one-third of children aged 2 to 5 years in the United States are affected by tooth decay. Your pediatric dentist emphasizes that while her baby teeth will eventually fall out, it's important to treat cavities and keep these teeth healthy, just like permanent teeth, as they are the foundation for your daughter's permanent teeth.

When you ask about treatments, your pediatric dentist tells you about something new called silver diamine fluoride. Here's what you to know about it:

What is it?

Silver diamine fluoride is a liquid that dentists can brush directly onto a cavity to stop the decay and fight future cavities. The liquid contains silver ions that kill the bacteria that cause cavities. If you haven't heard of this treatment, you're likely not alone. Silver diamine fluoride is still relatively new as it received an U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval about a year ago.

Why is this important?

Just as it's important to be informed about proper brushing techniques and foods that are best for little teeth, it's also important to know treatment options when a cavity occurs. Here are five bite-sized facts you need to know when discussing silver diamine fluoride as a treatment option with your child's pediatric dentist:

  1. Less invasive. Because it does not involve any drilling or injections, silver diamine fluoride may be a better option for parents and children who feel anxious about dental procedures or wish to avoid anesthesia.

  2. Visible stains. Silver diamine fluoride blackens the brownish decay on a tooth, causing a dark spot where the cavity is. Some parents might feel silver diamine fluoride is a better option for a back molar or a baby tooth that will fall out.

  3. Quick. A pediatric dentist can generally brush the liquid onto a cavity within 30 seconds.

  4. Less expensive. While most insurance does not yet cover silver diamine fluoride, the procedure is relatively inexpensive compared to cavity fillings.

  5. Allergies. Because silver ions are the key part of silver diamine fluoride that fights cavities, the treatment is not recommended for people with a silver allergy.

How do I know if silver diamine fluoride is right for my child?

Be sure to speak with your pediatric dentist about the best treatment option for your child. The recommended treatment may also vary based on the severity of the cavity, as larger cavities may still require fillings. Your pediatric dentist may also recommend more than one treatment of silver diamine fluoride to fully treat a cavity.

While proper brushing techniques and nutrition are the best ways to avoid tooth decay, cavities do happen and it's important to know your options when they do. Check out the AAPD's website to use a pediatric dentist locator to find a pediatric dentist near you and establish a "dental home," or home base, for your child's dental needs. You can also find tips and resources to help teach children about proper oral health in a way that's fun and easy to understand to establish a lifelong healthy little teeth routine.

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