Silver Nitrate – Dental Treatment that Makes Kids Smile!

Remember going to the dentist when you were a child? For many of us, it was not a pleasant experience–particularly if the word “cavity” came up during the exam. Well there’s a treatment catching on now that can really take the “bite” out of having a cavity filled. It’s called silver nitrate, and it’s quick, easy and painless!

No Sedation Needed

Dr. Frank Mendoza, a pediatric dentist on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon, is one of a growing number of dentists using silver nitrate (a liquid antimicrobial treatment) to stop tooth decay. It is common in tribal communities for young children to have high rates of dental decay. Many actually end up under general anesthesia in the hospital!1

Preventing kids from being put under or sedated is a hot topic in the dental world. A recent article in the journal Pediatrics estimates that each year about 100,000 to 250,000 pediatric dental sedations are performed in the U.S.2  Sedation in young children is often administered to control behavior, but young children are more vulnerable to sedation than adults – which may be why an alarming number of children have died or have long-term side-effects from sedation.

So this quick, sedation-free treatment seems almost like ‘magic’.

How Does It Work?

The technique is simple: the dentist uses a small brush to paint on the silver nitrate, and then immediately seals the area with a fluoride varnish. The silver nitrate disinfects and hardens the cavity, stopping the decay process. No drills or injections needed. Cavities can be treated in a matter of minutes, which is one reason it is becoming used more and more in pediatric dentistry.

Are There Side Effects of Silver Nitrate?

This treatment has been proving very successful; however, there is an aesthetic downside. It can discolor the tooth with a brownish or grayish spot. Most parents say it is minimal, and feel it is a small price to pay for this painless dental alternative. As many cavities are formed on molars, it would generally not affect the smile. When the baby teeth come out, the adult teeth are unaffected. (Patients with a silver allergy or with more extensive issues may not be candidates for this treatment.)

What is the Availability of this Treatment?

As with any newer treatments, it may take a while before it becomes available at your local dentist. We suggest you simply ask your dentist if they use silver nitrate or silver diamine flouride. Some dental plans include this treatment (e.g. Delta Dental), but until more insurers get on board, patients may have to cover the cost themselves. The good news is it is relatively inexpensive at about $25 per tooth. When you compare that to the cost of a filling and the associated stress and risks, it seems a better, safer alternative—especially knowing that a filling won’t cure an oral infection.

toddler girl brushing teeth, silver nitrate

What is the Best Way to Prevent Cavities?

Silver nitrate seems an excellent way to treat kids’ cavities, but preventive oral health care is still the best way to help reduce time in the dental chair. Teaching your kids how to brush properly, floss and make better food choices is the best way to start them out. Once a habit is formed, it’s hard to break. So set the example—it’ll pay off with healthy smiles and fewer trips to the dentist.




8 Comments on “Silver Nitrate – Dental Treatment that Makes Kids Smile!

  1. This sounds really interesting! I’ll have to call my children’s pediatric dentist over at Schon Dental to see if they are offering this service now! My children haven’t had any cavities but it would be nice to know if it is an option.

    1. Thanks Barry! Let us know if your pediatric dentist offers this service…and hope the kiddos are cavity-free! 🙂

  2. I’m so glad I found this information…I have recently read that our oral health is a good indication of our overall health and that the health of our gums can affect a number of other systems of our body. Thank you for your kind information.
    Bridges Gresham

  3. My 7 year old daughter received this treatment yesterday and we couldn’t be happier! She doesn’t even tolerate a flu shot that my heart sunk when I heard she had a tiny cavity forming. I expressed my concerns with our dentist and he suggested the silver nitrate. It was a no-brainer. It took less than 2 minutes from start to finish and she left with smiles. As stated in this article, she does have a tiny dark dot on her tooth, but it’s unnoticeable on her back tooth. He did mention that it may discolor soft tissue for a couple weeks, but he was careful not to get the solution anywhere it wasn’t supposed to be, so this didn’t happen to her. The only other caution was that it tastes awful, but again, precautions were taken and a sugar-free lollipop was on standby for immediately after. Fully covered by our insurance and totally painless. Highly recommended!

    1. That’s a great question, Craig. As individuals can have varied or unique needs, we recommend checking with your dentist on the best course of action for your particular situation.

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