Silver Fluoride: What Is It?

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The dental compound silver fluoride is a treatment made of one part silver bonded fluoride and two parts ammonia, notes a published paper from the Journal of the California Dental Association (JCDA). It can also be called ammoniacal silver fluoride, but is referred to most often as silver diamine fluoride, or SDF. The fluoride in SDF comes from elemental fluoride that is chemically bonded to the silver ion, making the compound safe to use in your mouth.

How Silver Fluoride Works

In August 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classified SDF as safe and effective for use in the treatment of tooth sensitivity, according to a notice from the Iowa Department of Public Health. At that time, dentists also use it off-label to treat tooth decay.

When the dentist applies clear SDF on the surface of a tooth that has demineralization or decay, it permanently hardens the surface and stains the damage dark gray or black. SDF won't affect any area of the tooth that is healthy. This unique action not only stops the tooth decay, but provides residual protection against the growth of new bacteria. It works on crown and root surfaces.

Pros and Cons of Silver Fluoride

SDF can be used in various locations, such as traditional dental offices, public health clinics, daycare centers and nursing homes. The Alliance for a Cavity Free Future explains that the compound is inexpensive, plus it only takes a drop to treat several teeth at a time. Silver diamine fluoride is applied to the enamel and root surfaces of the teeth with a small brush, and it is safe and effective in the dental office setting.

The JCDA paper explains that this product is recommended most often for certain people. Your dentist may decide it's a good option for you or your child if you have cavities throughout your mouth, have too many cavities to be treated all in one visit, or have cavities in areas that are difficult to view. It's also a good option for people who have difficulty accessing or receiving conventional care. What's more, the JCDA notes that SDF is second only to sealants as the most effective primary preventative for cavities, and sealants are 10 times more expensive than SDF and require monitoring.

SDF has few drawbacks, but they can often be avoided. For example, the compound can cause a poor taste in your mouth or irritation to the surrounding gum tissue if it makes contact. However, dental professionals take extra care to decrease chances of spilling SDF and they pay close attention to isolating the teeth to be treated.

You should let your doctor know if you are or your child is allergic to silver or silver compounds before getting this treatment.

Preventing the Need for Silver Fluoride Use

The most effective way to prevent the need for SDF is routine oral care at home. Take the proper steps to avoid tooth decay in the future. For example, using a toothbrush such as the Colgate Plus toothbrush effectively cleans at the back and in between teeth. Using a toothpaste, such as Colgate Total Daily Repair, strengthens teeth by remineralizing weakened enamel and helps prevent cavities.

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Top Tips for Good Oral Care During Childhood

  • Brushing and flossing
    Begin using toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when he (or she) is 2 years old. Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing, rather than spitting it out. Introduce fluoride toothpaste when your child is old enough not to swallow it. As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss or special plastic floss holders.

  • Dental visit
    New parents often ask, "When should my child first see a dentist?” Your child should see a dentist by his or her first birthday.

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