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Silver diamine fluoride allows the dentist to treat tooth decay without the drills and needles. Read more about how this treatment can work for you.

Fact Check: How Does Silver Diamine Fluoride Work?

Cavities are usually treated by drilling out the decay and using a dental filling, which can be an unpleasant experience. But what if a drill and needle weren’t needed?

Silver diamine fluoride (SDF) may be the answer.

WHAT IS SILVER DIAMINE FLUORIDE?

SDF is a liquid substance made of four parts: silver, water, fluoride, and ammonia. It’s applied directly to the surface of the tooth. Studies show it can stop emerging cavities and prevent other cavities from forming.

Click here to see the complete SDF process.

While SDF has been used for decades outside of the United States, it was approved by the Food & Drug Administration in 2014.  In 2017, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines recommended SDF to treat cavities in children and adolescents. In 2018, the Journal of the American Dental Association noted it as an effective treatment for older adults too.

ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS TO SDF?

Once SDF is applied, the decay turns black permanently. If not applied carefully, surrounding tissue may also temporarily turn black.  It also has a metallic taste, but goes away quickly after application.

However, when used on a child’s baby teeth or on a molar (the color is not much different than an amalgam filling), the positive results outweigh the discoloration.

As a newer treatment, SDF may not be available at every dental office.  SDF may also not be the right treatment for everyone. If there is infection or if the decay is too severe, SDF can’t be used.

WHO IS A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR SDF TREATMENT?

Because there are no drills, no needles, and takes less time than a traditional filling procedure, SDF is especially useful for kids, people with special healthcare needs like cancer patients, and the elderly.  SDF is also often used as a stopgap for patients needing oral surgery or other more extensive treatments that take time to complete.

IS SDF DIFFERENT THAN FLUORIDE VARNISH OR A SEALANT?

SDF is different than either a fluoride varnish or a dental sealant, even though all three are applied in a similar way.

While fluoride varnish helps keep your tooth enamel hard to resist cavities, it does not have the same ability to stop tooth decay in progress like SDF.

A sealant prevents cavities from forming because it coats the chewing surface of molars to prevent food from getting stuck, which can lead to the bacteria that causes tooth decay.  And sealants are best for kids age 6-14 when permanent molars are coming in.

IS SDF RIGHT FOR ME?

Talk to your dentist if you’re interested in SDF as a treatment for tooth decay. It’s quick, painless, and has a high success rate of stopping decay and preventing new decay from forming.

A follow-up visit is recommended within a month after first application to ensure the decay has stopped. Additional SDF treatments can be done at the follow-up or other future visits.

SDF treatment is covered by Delta Dental of South Dakota plans, subject to some limitations. You can work with your dentist on a pre-treatment estimate to know exactly what’s covered.