My toddler's teeth are black.  It is caused by treatment to prevent more cavities in his teeth.

My toddler’s teeth are black. It is caused by treatment to prevent more cavities in his teeth.

  • My family had terrible teeth for many generations.
  • My daughter had three cavities in her front teeth when she was only one year old.
  • Her dentist suggested treatment to prevent further cavities, but it left her teeth black.

My family has horrible teeth. They have chompers lined with crowns and fillings, and silver smiles when they open their mouths. I am convinced that a small community of dentists have stayed in business because my last name constantly appears on their calendars.

Don’t get me wrong: we brush and spin like the best of them, but our teeth are just soft and delicate, with crevices that host grains of sugar and bits of meat. I’ve had the least of this “family curse”, with only a handful of fillings so far. But I fear that my toddler, Elle, has the worst.

When she was a baby she would nap in my arms while I sat on the sofa, a time when I often used to wipe food stains from her cheeks and lightly brush her few teeth with a baby rubber toothbrush. When Elle was about 1 year old, I started brushing what I thought was plaque on her front teeth, but it wouldn’t go away.

“Oh, no,” I thought, “cavities.”

I took Elle for her first dental visit shortly after – and a tall, kind-eyed dentist confirmed that she had small cavities on three of her front teeth.

I felt like a failure for letting my 1 year old son’s teeth get so bad. I was also nervous, wondering if that meant Elle would have more cavities. Our dentist offered to put silver diamine fluoride on my daughter’s front teeth to stop the growth of cavities until she was old enough to sit for fillings without general anesthesia, or until her baby teeth fall out.

Silver diamine fluoride is safe and effective

My daughter’s dentist explained that SDF was safe and painless and cost a fraction of the cost of fillings. Still, with safety being my #1 priority, I wanted to do my own research. I had to make sure I wasn’t skipping the risks of anesthesia in favor of a worse list of side effects.

Lynn Gargano, clinical director of pediatric dentistry at NYU Langone Family Health Centers, confirmed that SDF is safe.

“Scientific reviews and clinical trials report no serious adverse events or side effects in children or adults,” she said, adding that the only known side effects were minor annoyances, such as gum irritation at short term or metallic taste.

“SDF has been proven to stop decay up to 80% of the time,” Gargano said. “In my practice, SDF is a viable alternative in very young children and patients with special management considerations.”

After discussing it with my husband, we decided that SDF would be the best choice, and the following week Elle’s dentist brushed the tops of her teeth with what looked like a small plastic stick. We were in and out of the office within minutes.

His teeth turned black with the treatment

Before applying SDF, the dentist warned me – repeatedly – that the solution would permanently stain the areas of decay, meaning parts of Elle’s teeth would remain black unless we decided to do fillings later. He mentioned that some parents weren’t happy about this, but I ignored his warning.

Yet SDF as a caries treatment is relatively new in the United States. It’s been used for oral care in Japan for more than 50 years, but the Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve it for dental use until 2014. So while Gargano said the SDF had gained in popularity in the United States, I’ve found that most people don’t know what it is.

“Did she eat Oreos?” other parents asked after seeing my daughter laughing in the playground.

Sometimes I just nodded and smiled, blaming the dark area on the cream-filled cookies. But most of the time I have to explain that my daughter has cavities and that was the alternative to general anesthesia. I raised my eyebrows, but most of the time, other parents sympathize with a difficult decision. Plus, they’re often interested to learn that fillings aren’t the only option. I am delighted to be able to tell them about our experience.

When my pediatric dentist warned me about the SDF stains, I knew he was concerned that I didn’t like the way Elle’s teeth looked. But my daughter isn’t bothered by her stained teeth, and I don’t mind the look at all. In fact, I quite like it. It makes her look more like my side of the family.

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