December 01, 2018

Silver diamine fluoride: Stopping cavities without fillings

When your dentist says you have an area of tooth decay, it often means there's a filling in your future. But for some older adults, a product called silver diamine fluoride may be an alternative to fillings. Silver diamine fluoride has been used in other countries for years, and was approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016.

Silver diamine fluoride is a liquid mixture of silver and fluoride that can be painted onto areas of tooth decay without the need to remove the decay. It's also used on areas where gum tissue has receded, exposing a sensitive root surface. Silver diamine fluoride hardens over a few weeks, creating a protective barrier over the decay or exposed root. The silver inhibits bacteria that cause decay. The fluoride helps strengthen areas where decay has caused loss of tooth minerals.

As the silver and fluoride absorb into the tooth, they can slow or stop further decay from occurring. Your tooth isn't returned to new, but the decay may be slowed enough — or possibly even stopped — to potentially avoid or delay the need for a filling. In addition, silver diamine fluoride is known to be effective at reducing the sensitivity of exposed tooth roots.

One downside of silver diamine fluoride is that it causes a dark stain on the teeth where it is applied. However, among its best uses is for decay occurring along the gumline, where fillings are more difficult to place and where the stain...