Silver Diamine Fluoride Offers Alternative Treatment For Tooth decay | Family wellness
Did you know that tooth decay is actually the most common chronic disease in children? In fact, it’s five times more common than asthma. And unfortunately, the rate of tooth decay in children is actually increasing.
“Disintegration rates are rising again with the widespread addition of cheap corn syrup to processed foods and the high consumption of sugary beverages,” said Susan Rand, health dental hygienist for the Vermont Department of Health. Despite the widespread use of topical fluorides in toothpaste, better education about dental hygiene, and greater adherence to a healthy diet, the past few decades have resulted in more tooth decay rather than less.
Why this? In addition to the increased intake of high-sugar drinks and foods containing sugar, habits are sometimes bad. Tooth decay in children is also directly related to the oral health of a child’s primary caregiver.
“It’s not this soft tooth myth … Children are not born with the bacteria that cause tooth decay,” noted Rand.
In most cases, the bacterium actually comes directly from the primary caregiver, who has the bacterium in their saliva and is passing it on to the child.
“When a child is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it is completely natural for them to put their hands in their parents’ mouth,” said Rand.
And that contact can transmit the bacteria that cause the decay. Other common scenarios that can lead to this include sharing food and utensils, or cleaning a child’s pacifier in their mouth instead of running it under the faucet. Going to bed with a bottle or feeding them overnight for longer than a year can also contribute to the onset of tooth decay.
This is why it is so important for parents to see a dentist early in a child’s life.
“The first preventive dentist visit at the age of one year is to educate parents about diet and how to prevent tooth decay, how to watch the child,” Rand said.
Parents who care about their own oral health go a long way in preventing tooth decay in their children. Preventive care includes not sharing things that get in your mouth, such as utensils, offering a healthy, low-sugar diet, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste after the first tooth erupts, and discussing whether to take fluoride supplementation a necessary step is based on the amount of fluoride in a family’s drinking water.
While prevention is the best approach, what do you do when tooth decay becomes a problem? Even for children with only their first teeth, tooth decay needs to be addressed.
“The main teeth need to be taken care of to make room for the permanent teeth,” explained Rand. In addition, the milk teeth affect a child’s eating, language development, and even self-esteem.
However, with intensive dental procedures such as drilling and needling and costly bills, parents are often at a loss as to what to do. Because of this, the Vermont Department of Health has started encouraging dentists to offer an alternative way of treating tooth decay.
It’s called silver diamine fluoride, or SDF, and several practices around the country are now offering it.
“It can eliminate a lot of large-scale restoration work that requires drilling, needling, anesthesia, and hospital surgery,” explained Rand.
In the long term, this can also prevent children from suffering trauma and developing dental phobias. In addition, compared to full mouth restorative care, SDF is extremely cost effective.
What is SDF?
“It’s a drop of liquid that is placed on a tooth and stops tooth decay,” said Rand. The silver kills bacteria and the silver and fluoride together harden the decayed area.
In the presence of new live bacteria, the dead bacteria actually reactivate the silver. Put simply, the dead bacteria kill the living bacteria, a process known as the “zombie effect”.
It has never been known to have an allergy to silver. So that’s not a problem. However, there is one important drawback to SDF that needs to be considered.
“Parents need to be aware that this is a way to avoid needles, drills and hospital surgery, but they need to know that the decayed area will darken,” Rand said.
Only the area with tooth decay will be darker and SDF will not affect other parts of the tooth. Rand stated that this “indicates that the decay process has stopped”. It is also important to note that no tooth darkening occurs without tooth decay.
Another problem some parents might face is the general safety of fluoride, given the controversy that seems to continue around them.
However, Rand stated, “There has been 70 years of research by consensus that there is no risk at recommended fluoride levels.” Added fluoride is found in mouthwashes, toothpaste, and fluoride varnish that are commonly used on our teeth and when used in the right amount there is no problem.
Silver nitrate was used regularly until the 1950s.
“It went out of style when burs became widespread and fluoride pastes, rinses and additives became more popular and decay rates were expected to decrease,” Rand said.
With the opposite happening, dentists see SDF as a valuable alternative to other, more involved, procedures. SDF has also been identified as a suitable option for people with special needs, adults with tooth decay, and those who cannot tolerate other restorative treatments.
While this may not be the best option in every case, it is definitely worth speaking to your family dentist when making decisions about how to deal with tooth decay.