A New Tool For Treating Cavities In Children
Health Canada approved the use of silver diamine fluoride in February 2017, making the age-old liquid available to Canadian dentists as a new tool in preventing and arresting dental caries (cavities). Read on to find out what SDF is and what benefits it can bring to your family.
What is Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF)?
SDF is a topical liquid originally approved for desensitizing but now primarily used for the treatment of cavities in children. The liquid is made up of 25% silver fluoride, 8% ammonia, 5% sodium fluoride, and 62% water. The silver’s antibacterial properties limit tooth decay, whereas the fluoride remineralizes the enamel. This combination has been shown to not only stop the progression of tooth decay in its tracks, but also to lower caries risk in adjacent teeth.
If a cavity has already formed then a filling may still be needed to properly restore the tooth. However, the SDF can at least stop the decay from progressing further.
So who do we have to credit for this amazing discovery? It turns out that silver fluoride (without the ammonia) has been used as a topical antimicrobial for over 1000 years, dating back to medieval Japan. SDF as we know it today was approved for use in Japan approximately 80 years ago. It’s been available in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and China since the 1980’s. So it’s not that SDF wasn’t out there. It’s just that Canada (and the United States, for that matter) were a bit slow to join the party.
What are the benefits of SDF?
The main benefit of SDF lies in its application. Because it’s a non-invasive caries treatment, SDF is an attractive alternative for patients who may not otherwise cooperate in the dentist’s chair. Your dentist will simply brush the solution on the affected teeth — there’s no drill or anesthesia involved — and the entire treatment can be done in less than 5 minutes. SDF is also more affordable than traditional fillings. As for its safety, adverse reactions to SDF are rare, and the only documented contraindication to using SDF is an allergy to silver or heavy metal ions.
Are there any downsides to its use?
By now you must be thinking that silver diamine fluoride is too good to be true. It certainly has its advantages, but there is a significant drawback. SDF’s main characteristic is that it causes the irreversible black staining of the treated teeth.
Yes, you read correctly, a carious lesion treated with SDF will turn black due to the formation of silver oxide. For adults, this is often a deal-breaker, especially if the treatment is to be applied to the front (anterior) teeth. However, for young children who are less concerned about aesthetics — and who are waiting for their baby teeth to fall out anyways — the simplicity of the treatment makes it an attractive alternative.