• My family has had terrible teeth for generations.
  • My daughter had three cavities in her teeth before she was 1 year old.
  • Her dentist recommended treatment to prevent multiple cavities, but it left her with black teeth.

My family has terrible teeth. They have chompers covered in crowns and fillings, and smile silvery when they open their mouths. I’m sure the small community of dentists stayed in business because my family’s name is appearing on their calendars.

Make no mistake: we grind and grind like them, but our teeth are soft and delicate, with crevices that accept sticky sugar and bits of meat. I got the least from this “family curse”, so far, just a few fillings. But I’m afraid my baby girl, Elle, has the worst of it.

As a child, she would wash in my arms as I sat on the couch, during which I would often wipe food stains from her cheeks and brush a few of her teeth with a rubber baby toothbrush. When Elle was 1 year old, I started brushing the plaque I suspected on her front teeth, but it wouldn’t come off.

“Oh no,” I thought, “Caves.”

Not long after that I had Ellen’s first dental visit – and a tall dentist with kind eyes confirmed that she had small cavities in her three front teeth.

I felt like a failure letting my 1 year old get teething. I was scared too, thinking this meant Elle would get more holes. The dentist offered to add silver diamine fluoride to stop the growth of my daughter until she was old enough for fillings without general anesthesia or her baby teeth fell out.

Silver diamine fluoride is safe and effective.

My son’s dentist explained that SDF is safe and painless and comes with minimal cost of fillings. Still, with safety as my #1 priority, I wanted to do my own research. I had to make sure I didn’t skip anesthesia risks in favor of a list of worse 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 adverse events or serious side effects in either children or adults,” she says. Noted side effects are minor, such as short-term gum irritation or a metallic taste, she said.

“SDF has been proven to contain up to 80% decomposition,” Gargano said. “In my practice, SDF is a suitable option in very young children and patients with special management issues.”

After talking with my husband, we decided that SDF was the best choice, and the next week, Elle’s dentist cleaned her teeth with something that looked like a small plastic stick. We were out of the office within minutes.

With the treatment, her teeth became black

Before applying SDF, the dentist warned me – a few times – that the solution would permanently stain decay areas, meaning that parts of Elle’s teeth would remain black unless we decided to fill them later. He said some parents weren’t happy about it, but I let the warning go.

Still, SDF as a cavity treatment is relatively new in the US. It has been used for oral care in Japan for more than 50 years, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve it for dental use until 2014. So when Gargano says the SDF is gaining popularity in the states, I get most of it. People don’t know what it is.

“Were you eating Oreos?” Other parents have asked after seeing my daughter laughing on the playground.

Sometimes I nod and smile knowing the dark spot on the cream-filled cookies. But often, I am forced to explain that my daughter has a cavity and that this is an alternative to general anesthesia. I get some eyebrows, but more often than not, other parents are saddened by the tough decision. Plus, they’re often interested in hearing that charging isn’t the only option. I am glad to be able to tell you about our experience.

I know he’s worried that Elle won’t like the look of his teeth when the pediatrician warns him about SDF stains. But my daughter is not worried about her dirty teeth, and the appearance does not bother me at all. Actually, I like it. It makes her seem more like my family.

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