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Service Spotlight: Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) for Cavities

Boy showing teeth after dental visit

There’s a new kid on the block, and his name is Silver Diamine Fluoride – “SDF” for short.

While the best way to treat a decayed tooth is through full restoration, SDF has provided an alternative option to halt decay utilizing a noninvasive technique.

We pediatric dentists are always looking for the latest developments to help provide better care for our patients. A couple years ago, The New York Times published an article about a new, cavity-fighting liquid (SDF) that can be brushed on to stop tooth decay. Ever since then, we’ve received a lot of questions about SDF from parents wondering if it’s too good to be true. SDF has even been featured on national news channels recently as it gains popularity!

We’ve been familiar with silver diamine fluoride treatments for decades, but like any treatment, it takes some time to conduct research, perform studies to ensure efficacy and safety, and to get it out there and into the world.

With the significant numbers of cavities we’re seeing in children, I’m happy that we have a tool like SDF in our tool box that can reduce the incidence of new cavities and progression of current cavities by 70-75%.

If cavities are the fire, then SDF is the fire extinguisher.

What is Silver Diamine Fluoride?

SDF is a clear, odorless liquid made from silver and fluoride. Silver acts as an antimicrobial agent that destroys cavity causing bacteria, and fluoride is well known for strengthening enamel. This compound is so effective, a single drop is all that’s needed to treat a tooth that is decaying. While it won’t fix a cavity, it can stop the decay right in its tracks.

SDF works because it’s very good at fighting off bacteria and MMPs, which are responsible for eroding the dentin that teeth are made from.

How is Silver Diamine Fluoride Used?

The ease of use with SDF is one of its greatest attractions for children. SDF can be brushed on in 60 seconds with no drilling, no noise, no injections, and no pain.

During their visit, we’ll start by isolating the affected tooth or teeth. The SDF is then carefully applied with a brush applicator, and it will take about 1 minute.

That’s it!

When is Silver Diamine Fluoride Recommended?

The best candidates for SDF treatment are young children with multiple or excessive cavities. As it only stops decay and doesn’t restore the tooth, it is typically used in children who have decay in their baby teeth and may not tolerate traditional treatment, or as a tool to prevent further decay until a more permanent treatment can be applied.

For young patients that want to dodge the drill or be under general anesthesia for big cases, SDF might be the stopgap measure that we need.

Benefits of Silver Diamine Fluoride

SDF is an effective, attractive option for kids in Mount Pleasant with decay in their primary teeth, full-mouth cases, or just unable to sit still for a long period of time.

No pain. The application of SDF is a noninvasive treatment. That means no shots, no pain, no anesthetic, and no drill required! In fact, SDF was originally developed for treating sensitive teeth, so kids will have less pain or discomfort as a result of treatment.

Stops cavities. While it’s not 100%, SDF has a great track record for arresting dental caries in teeth.

It’s safe. Children and their parents have nothing to fear. It takes only a tiny amount for effective treatment, and it has a very low toxicity rating.

It’s fast. After isolating, the full process takes only a few minutes. For some cases, we might recommend multiple treatments to be safe.

It’s affordable. Treatment with SDF is one of the most cost-effective operations out there.

The Downside of Silver Diamine Fluoride

I know what you’re thinking: If SDF is so good, why isn’t it everywhere? Shouldn’t we be using this treatment all the time?

There is only one particular downside of SDF that patients and parents need to be aware of: Silver diamine fluoride will darken areas that are decayed; but this is a sign that it is working!

While SDF itself is clear, it’s reaction with tooth decay can turn those areas black. We should note that healthy tooth structures will NOT stain. If this tooth is going to be around for a while, then the stained tooth will need to be restored with a crown or filling anyway.

Silver Diamine Fluoride Treatment for Kids in Mount Pleasant

Roughly 25% of children aged 2 to 5 years have cavities. We don’t recommend leaving cavities untreated, even in primary teeth, as it can cause significant problems in development. For many parents, it’s a tough decision to have their child sedated or to have teeth drilled and filled.

With more children than ever ending up in an operating room under general anesthesia due to multiple, severe cavities, SDF might provide an alternative for worried parents that want to get their kids on track.

If you have questions about SDF, or think it may be a good option for your child, give our pediatric dental practice in Mount Pleasant a call. Our team will be more than happy to help answer any questions you may have.


Dr. Randy