Silver Diamine Fluoride vs. Dental Sealants: What’s the Difference?

young girl smiling with missing front tooth

As a parent, you want what’s best for your children. When it comes to their oral health and preventing childhood caries, you may have heard of silver diamine fluoride (SDF) and dental sealants. Are these treatments necessary? What are they and what’s the difference between them? You may also be wondering which treatment is right for your child, or if one is better than the other. While both of these treatments can help protect your child’s teeth, there are some key differences between the two. Keep reading to learn more about silver diamine fluoride vs. dental sealants!

Why use silver diamine fluoride or dental sealants?

One of the first things you may be wondering as a parent is why either of these treatments are necessary. Silver diamine fluoride and dental sealants both work to protect your child’s teeth from cavities, or caries. Cavities form when bacteria in the mouth create acids that eat away at the enamel of a tooth. The more acid there is, the faster cavities can form, so it’s important to take preventive measures to protect your child’s teeth.

Unfortunately, cavities are especially common in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • more than half of children ages 6-8 have had a cavity in at least one primary tooth
  • more than half of adolescents ages 12-19 have had a cavity in at least one permanent tooth

Cavities can cause a variety of problems for children. They can lead to tooth pain, difficulty eating and speaking, and cavities can even spread to other teeth if they are not treated. Cavities can also cause the premature loss of primary teeth, which can lead to problems such as overcrowding and the need for orthodontic treatment later down the road. For these reasons, pediatric dentists often recommend taking preventive measures such as silver diamine fluoride or dental sealants to protect your child’s teeth from developing cavities.

Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) is a liquid that’s applied to the teeth and helps to prevent cavities.

Silver diamine fluoride, known as SDF, is an effective way for pediatric dentists to help treat tooth decay and prevent childhood caries. SDF is a liquid that contains silver, diamine (an organic compound), and fluoride. It is used as a topical treatment for cavities in teeth, especially in children and elderly patients who have difficulty undergoing traditional cavity fillings. The liquid is applied to areas of the tooth that are most prone to tooth decay, in order to stop decay from spreading further. In fact, studies suggest that applying this liquid can halt tooth decay that has already begun and prevent future decay.

When applied to the surface of a cavity, SDF works in several ways to help prevent the progression of the decay and promote healing of the tooth:

  1. Antibacterial action: Silver is a well-known antibacterial agent, which helps to kill the bacteria responsible for tooth decay.
  2. Fluoride release: Fluoride is a mineral that helps to strengthen the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. The fluoride in SDF is slowly released over time, providing ongoing protection against cavities and enamel erosion.
  3. Pain relief: The diamine in SDF has anesthetic properties, which can provide immediate relief from the pain and sensitivity associated with cavities.
  4. Stops tooth decay: SDF has been shown to slow down or even stop the progression of cavities, which can be especially beneficial in patients who have multiple cavities or who have difficulty undergoing traditional cavity treatments.

It is important to note that SDF is not a permanent solution and the treatment will need to be repeated semi-annually in order to maintain effectiveness. Additionally, SDF does not replace the need for traditional cavity fillings in all cases. Finally, the silver in SDF causes a noticeable discoloration of the treated area, which may not be suitable for all patients. However, this discoloration can be covered with a white or composite filling.

Pros of SDF

  • Topical application with no need for drilling or anesthesia
  • Halts existing tooth decay and prevents future decay
  • Affordable

Cons of SDF

  • Decayed areas will stain black
  • Strong metallic taste and odor
  • Needs to be reapplied semi-annually

Dental sealants are also applied to the teeth, but they act as a barrier against food and bacteria.

A dental sealant is a thin, protective coating that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (premolars and molars) to help prevent cavities and tooth decay.  It is usually composed of acrylic or composite resin, and can be white, clear, or custom matched to the natural tooth color. The sealant acts as a barrier, sealing out plaque and food particles that can get trapped in the grooves and pits of these teeth, where a toothbrush can’t always reach. Sealants can also be used to halt the progression of non-cavitated caries lesions in the teeth.

Much like SDF, the process of applying a dental sealant is quick and painless. The tooth is cleaned and dried, and then an etching solution is applied to the chewing surface to create a rough surface for the sealant to adhere to. The liquid sealant is then painted onto the tooth, where it quickly hardens into a durable, protective shield.

Sealants are especially beneficial for children and teenagers, whose permanent molars are still coming in and who may not have developed the manual dexterity or brushing habits necessary to effectively clean all surfaces of their teeth. However, dental sealants can be applied to adults as well and can provide an extra layer of protection against cavities and decay. Studies show that sealants decrease the risk of tooth decay in molars by as much as 80%.

Pros of Dental Sealants

  • Prevents tooth decay
  • Blends in with the natural tooth color
  • Topical application with no need for drilling or anesthesia
  • Only need to be applied once every few years

Cons of Dental Sealants

  • Cannot be used to halt existing cavities
  • Takes slightly longer than SDF to apply
  • Contains a miniscule amount of BPA (still considered safe)

Both SDF and dental sealants are effective at preventing cavities and protecting teeth from decay.

Therefore, the choice between the two will depend on the specific needs and circumstances of the patient.

Dental sealants are a preventative treatment that are typically applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (premolars and molars) to help prevent food and plaque from getting trapped in the grooves and pits of these teeth. They are commonly applied to healthy teeth and/or teeth that are just starting to show signs of early decay. Sealants are generally recommended for children and teenagers, but can also be applied to adults.

Silver diamine fluoride (SDF), on the other hand, is used as a treatment for cavities that have already formed. SDF works by killing bacteria, releasing fluoride, and providing pain relief, and can be especially useful in patients who have multiple cavities, who have difficulty undergoing traditional cavity fillings, or who have special needs.

In general, dental sealants are better for preventing cavities from forming, while SDF is better for treating existing cavities and slowing down or stopping the progression of decay. However, the best approach will depend on the individual patient and their unique needs, and a dentist will be able to make the best recommendation after evaluating the patient’s oral health.

In Conclusion

Silver diamine fluoride (SDF) and dental sealants are both effective at preventing cavities, but they have some key differences. SDF is used to treat existing cavities, while dental sealants are primarily used to prevent cavities from forming altogether. Both can be applied topically, but  dental sealants last longer, while SDF needs to be reapplied twice a year. Ultimately, the determining factor for deciding which is best is the individual needs of the patient. To learn more about these two treatments and to find out which is right for your child, schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric dentists today!

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