This Cavity-Fighting Liquid Will Cost Less Than Dental Sealants


  • New research shows that silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is as effective as dental sealants at stopping cavities.
  • SDF works just as well but is less expensive and easier to apply than dental sealants.
  • Dental sealants last for several years, while SDF needs to be applied twice a year.

A dental treatment called silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is as effective as traditional sealants at preventing the spread of tooth decay, according to a recent school-based study. If that's not enough to deserve a laugh, SDF is also easier to use and cheaper than sealants.

In the study, researchers used a 38% SDF solution or therapeutic dental sealant on more than 4,000 low-income minority children in New York school settings. The results showed that SDF was as effective as traditional sealants in preventing the spread of cavities in children, a finding that researchers say will generalize to the adult population.

“The effects of silver diamine fluoride are almost immediate,” Richard Niederman, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at the New York University School of Dentistry, told Verywell. “Think of it as infection control. Our data shows that diamine silver fluoride prevents 80% of cavities and reduces cavities by 50% after 3 applications.

What is silver diamine fluoride?

SDF is a colorless alkaline antibacterial liquid composed of silver, fluoride and ammonia. It is a Class II medical device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of tooth sensitivity, but dental professionals often use it off-label to help stop the progression of tooth decay in children and adults.

The application process is simple but must be completed by a licensed clinician. The first step is to place the liquid on the tooth surface and let it soak for one minute. Then, add fluoride varnish.

The entire process is much simpler than traditional resin dental sealants, which are time-consuming and technically sensitive.

In our practice, we use SDF on patients with active decay,” Kila Wells, a registered dental hygienist in California, tells Verywell. “However, it's not as effective when used for deep decay. We use it a lot especially in the elderly population.

Is SDF better than traditional sealants for adults?

While SDF is cheaper and faster than dental sealants, there are some key differences between the two, including how well they work and how long they last.

The main difference is that SDF is used to stop cavities that have already started (the term “stop” is often used). Dental sealants are often used to prevent cavities from forming in the first place.

A key difference between sealants and SDF is their mechanism of action. Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, spokesperson for the American Dental Association’s Consumer Advisor, told Verywell, “Dental sealants are protective in nature and are superficial, whereas SDF penetrates the tooth structure from the outside and reaches below the surface. .

One potential disadvantage of SDF is that it needs to be used at least twice a year to effectively stop the progression of existing cavities.

“It is recommended that SDF be used every two years, while dental sealants typically last a few years before they need to be reapplied,” Rodriguez says.

Why preventing tooth decay is important

Tooth decay, or cavities (tiny holes in teeth caused by breakdown of enamel), is a preventable disease but is also a very common one. In the United States, more than 50% of children aged 6-8 years have tooth decay, with the proportion even higher among minorities.

It is important to treat existing cavities and prevent the development of more cavities because untreated cavities can have negative health effects:

  • pain
  • Infect
  • Missing teeth
  • Talking and eating problems
  • Limit children’s play and learning
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • weakened immune system

With many children and adults unable to access routine dental care, public health programs administering SDF to those with signs of tooth decay could be a game changer, improving quality of life and overall health.

Fluoride is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay because it protects the enamel on your teeth from the acids in your food. This is why you see many public health initiatives to increase the amount of fluoride in our daily lives, including community water fluoridation programs and school-based dental care programs to directly apply fluoride, which is what home dentists have Very important when it comes to obstacles.

According to Niedermann, fluoride comes in many forms with different benefits:

  • Fluoride toothpaste can reduce tooth decay by 20%
  • Water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 25%
  • Fluoride varnish (used by professionals) reduces tooth decay by 40%
  • Silver diamine fluoride reduces tooth decay by 80%

Whether SDF or sealants are right for you or your family depends on your overall health and dental care needs. If you are unsure, it is best to seek advice from your dentist or hygienist. If you don't have access to regular dental care, check with your state's public health department to find out where you can get low-cost or even free dental care.

what does this mean to you

Using SDF or dental sealants depends on your dental needs and the overall health of your teeth. Talk to your dentist or hygienist about which treatment will best help you maintain your smile.

Amy Isler shot in the head

By Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN

Isler is a registered nurse with more than six years of patient experience. She is a certified school nurse in California.

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