Following the Smart Silver Trail by Dr. Steve Duffin

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Dentaltown Magazine

SDF helps arrest caries growth around the world

by Dr. Steve Duffin

In 2006, I obtained my first bottle of silver diamine fluoride (SDF) from a colleague in Japan. The product’s ability to arrest active caries and to prevent new lesions in my high-risk Medicaid patient population was astonishing. Over the next six years, I studied the history of silver compound’s use in dentistry, including the use of silver nitrate by G.V. Black in 1908. The properties of silver and fluoride were combined into one silver fluoride product by Mizuho Nishino in 1965, resulting in the product Saforide. This material was used around the world with great success and received FDA clearance in 2014. It was then marketed as the silver diamine fluoride product Advantage Arrest in 2015.

As we gained experience using silver ion products—first silver nitrate, then silver diamine fluoride—we developed the application protocol that follows.

1. Identify a caries lesion that does not involve the pulp.
2. Carefully clean the lesion to remove food particles and plaque.v 3. Air-dry the lesion for at least 10 seconds.
4. Using a microbrush, apply SDF to the dried lesion.
5. Immediately cover with fluoride varnish to protect from saliva contamination.
6. Repeat treatment two or three times over the next month.

The result after this protocol is a lesion that has turned dark and has a hard surface. Laboratory studies in my office showed that the number of active bacteria had been dramatically reduced in treated lesions.

After a lesion becomes arrested, several “next steps” may be considered. For primary teeth, parents may opt to observe until exfoliation. In cases where cavitation exists and food traps are present, we often place a glass ionomer cement restoration that bonds to the treated tooth surface (Fig. 1). In the case of anterior teeth, where there may be an aesthetic concern, we may apply a glass ionomer or composite to cover the dark arrested lesion (Figs. 2a and 2b). This process is known as SMART—an acronym for “silver modified atraumatic restorative technique.”

Fig. 1
Fig. 2a: Decay arrested by silver diamine fluoride (SDF).
Fig. 2b: Silver modified atraumatic restorative technique (SMART) with Fuji II LC and discing and slow speed. (Courtesy of Dr. Jeanette MacLean)

Case Study
My patient Deckland presented when he was about 4 years old with advanced ECC throughout his mouth, especially affecting his anterior maxillary teeth.

Fig. 3

Deckland’s preliminary exam occurred while I was just beginning to learn about SDF and was still going to the hospital regularly to treat such cases. Because of the long wait time for an operating suite (OR) to open, I suggested to his parents that it could be helpful if I placed SDF to slow the decay process and to possibly prevent abscess formation while we waited for a treatment appointment. Shortly after I placed SDF, we observed the classic darkening and hardening of the decay; I explained that we would correct this cosmetic problem when the OR date arrived.

Shortly thereafter, a change in Deckland’s life circumstances resulted in his losing his Medicaid dental insurance coverage. His parents chose no further treatment and I lost track of him. Later, Deckland resurfaced with his arrested primary teeth exfoliating naturally and I was finally able to see him with his permanent dentition in place.

It’s important to emphasize that there was no further treatment during this time, other than my initial intensive application of SDF and fluoride varnish. Yet, Deckland did not develop new decay during this period and was progressing toward a normal adult dentition. Fortunately, I had the good sense to take some photographs of this case, even though I hadn’t intentionally been documenting this SDF treatment case and was astonished by the results (Fig. 3).

Using SDF in Ecuador
In 2014, my office was contacted by the ministry of health in Ecuador, and a visit by the lead dentist was arranged to see this treatment in action. This visit resulted in the design and delivery of a pilot program in a rural primary school and a school for special needs children in Ibarra, Ecuador (Figs. 4–6).

The severity of caries in these children was remarkable, with the average child having greater than 10 untreated decayed teeth. Working in collaboration with the Ecuadorian ministry of health and local dentists, we provided care using the silver nitrate and fluoride varnish protocol described. In total, we used this protocol to treat roughly 165 primary school children and 65 children in a special needs school.

We returned after 3, 6 and 12 months to collect outcome data. Since children experienced a 100 percent reduction in pain and over 90 percent success at caries arrest, we received an invitation to collaborate with the Ecuadorian government to develop a caries treatment program for the entire country. This effort is ongoing.

Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Using SDF in Ghana
After the word was out about our efforts in South America, an invitation came to travel to Ghana and conduct a similar program in the rural village of Kpetoe in the Volta region. In collaboration with Ghanain dentists and under the approval and guidance of paramount chief Nene Nuer Keteku III (Fig. 7), we examined and treated 300 primary school children (Fig. 8).

Happily, we discovered that the oral health of children in rural Ghana was much better than in Ecuador; only 30 percent of the children showed any signs of caries with an average of 1.2 cavities per child. In the end, we also observed a 100 percent reduction in pain as well as roughly 90 percent success at caries arrest as anticipated (Figs. 9 and 11).

We collected preliminary information about diet and oral hygiene practices in these two populations, as well as salivary bacterial samples for DNA species identification in an attempt to understand the differences in disease presentation between the two groups (Fig. 10). There remain many opportunities to learn from the manifestation of disease in these diverse populations through future research efforts.

Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11

Using SDF in Bolivia
In 2017, our group received an invitation to collaborate with Choice Humanitarian in a 3,700-child program in Bolivia (Fig. 12) using silver diamine fluoride and fluoride varnish.

This program was carried out in September 2017 (Fig.?13). The level of dental disease we found in the Bolivian children was astonishing: More than half of the children examined complained of daily pain from caries-related disease (Figs.?14a and 14b).

In April 2018, we carried out a follow-up assessment of the outcomes of treatment the previous fall. Caries arrest was affirmed in thousands upon thousands of teeth; however, the most remarkable finding was that while 50 percent of the children had complained about caries-related mouth pain six months earlier, not one child reported pain at the six-month evaluation examination. Data analysis is ongoing to verify caries arrest percent success, but, we anticipate the same results as Ecuador and Ghana.

These three projects demonstrate the treatment efficacy and cost savings that are possible when employing the medical management of caries approach.

Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14a and 14b: Examples of severe dental caries found in Bolivia.

1 Black G.V., The Pathology of the Hard Tissues of the Teeth 1908
2 Rosenblatt A., Stamford TC, Niederman R, Silver diamine fluoride: a caries silver-fluoride bullet. J. Dental Research, Feb 2009

Author Bio
Author Dr. Steve Duffin is a general dentist in Keizer, Oregon, with a background in microbiology and public health dentistry and an emphasis on the care of patients with special needs. Duffin was involved in the early development of the dental program for the Oregon Health Plan, and also served as dental director and CEO of Capitol Dental Care for 10 years before returning to private practice in 2005. Duffin has recently focused on introducing caries management programs utilizing silver ion products to countries in the developing world. He is also the dental director for NODK, a medical device research and development company.

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