What if you, as a parent who has a very young child with a cavity, is told that instead of a 30 minute long appointment consisting of the dreaded shot, drilling, and no small amount of drama, that we could very simply, in less than a minute paint a magic substance on your child’s cavity, and voila, cavity is taken care?
Well, what if we told you that such a substance has been used in Japan for the past 80 years, can apparently basically ‘freeze’ cavities in place eliminating the need for placing a filling, and that the cost of such treatment is fairly low. Sounds good doesn’t it?
That magic substance is Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF). It is a colorless liquid consisting of 24-28% silver and 5% fluoride. The FDA recently approved this for use as a cavity varnish placed on enamel to reduce tooth sensitivity. Though it hasn’t been technically approved for use in the treatment of cavities, some dentists have started using SDF ‘off-label’ (which is allowed) for management of the aforementioned cavities.
As we alluded to in the introduction, the dentist simply dries the tooth with the cavity, swabs a small amount of the SDF liquid on the tooth, allows it to dry (1-2 minutes), and you’re done – the cavity is arrested (which means it kills the bacteria causing the cavity, hardens dentin, and promotes re-mineralization or hardening of the surrounding enamel).
Of course, as with any treatment option, there are some downsides to this treatment. The most significant is that any tooth treated with SDF will turn black in color. To be completely fair, only the cavity turns black, but when we say black, we mean BLACK. Not a slight discoloration, or graying. Black.
It also requires multiple applications for complete success, cannot be used in individuals who have silver allergies, can cause irritation to gum tissue, and has a slight metallic taste when first applied.
While SDF has been used for decades in not only Japan, but also Brazil, Peru, Australia, Thailand and a slew of other Asian countries, studies looking at its efficacy, and safety in the U.S. are limited. To date, there have only been 14 reputable studies on SDF; 7 of which have been completed, 5 that are recruiting, and 2 that have not yet begun recruiting.
Despite it’s drawbacks, there is probably a place for SDF in dentistry. Patients who are unable to tolerate extensive or any dental treatment such as the very young, very old, and/or medically compromised seem like candidates who would benefit from this very non invasive treatment. However, it needs to be understood, that this is not a cure for cavities – it is simply managing a disease process until such time that more definitive treatment (ie. filling, crown) can be completed. Furthermore, more research need to be done around issues of effectiveness, long term safety and treatment protocols.
(Click here for a recent New York Times article on this issue)