My baby’s teeth are black. It is caused by a treatment to avoid more cavities in her teeth.

  • My family has had terrible teeth across many generations.
  • My daughter had three cavities in her front teeth when she was only a year old.
  • Her dentist suggested treatment to prevent further decay, but it left her with blackened teeth.

My family has horrible teeth. They have pets lined with crowns and fillings, and silver smiles return when they open their mouths. I am convinced that a small group of dentists have stayed in business because my family name continues to appear on their calendars.

Don’t get me wrong: We brush and floss like the best of them, but our teeth are soft and sensitive, with cracks that welcome grains of cling sugar and crunchy morsels of meat. I’ve got the least bit of this “family curse” down, so far, with just a few fillers. But I’m afraid my toddler will have the worst of it.

As a baby, she would fall asleep in my arms as I sat on the couch, a time I would often use to wipe food stains off her cheeks and brush her few teeth with a kids’ rubber toothbrush. When Elle was about a year old, she started brushing what she thought was plaque on her front teeth, but it wouldn’t come off.

“Oh, no,” I thought, “hollows.”

I took Elle for her first dental visit shortly thereafter – and a tall dentist with kind eyes confirmed that she had small cavities in three of her front teeth.

I felt like a failure because I let my 1 year old have bad teeth. I was nervous too, wondering if this meant Elle was going to get more cavities. Our dentist offered to put silver diamine fluoride on my daughter’s front teeth to stop cavity growth until she was old enough to sit for fillings without general anesthesia, or until her baby teeth fell out.

Silver diamine fluoride is safe and effective

My daughter’s dentist explained that SSDs are safe and painless and that they come at a fraction of the cost of fillings. However, with safety as my first priority, I wanted to do my own research. I needed to make sure I wasn’t skipping over the dangers of anesthesia in favor of an even worse list of side effects.

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

“Scientific reviews and clinical trials indicate no serious adverse events or side effects in children or adults,” she said, adding that the only known side effects are minor discomfort, such as short-term gum irritation or a metallic taste.

“SDF has been shown to stop caries 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 speaking with my husband, we decided SDF would be the best option, and the next week, Elle’s dentist cleaned her teeth with what looked like a small plastic wand. We were in and out of the office within minutes.

Her teeth turned black with the treatment

Before applying SDF, my dentist warned me — multiple times — that the solution would permanently stain areas of decay, meaning parts of Elle’s teeth would remain black unless we decided to get fillings later. He mentioned that some parents were not happy with this, but I ignored his warning.

However, treating cavities with SDF is relatively new to 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 SDF has been gaining popularity in the states, I’ve found that most people don’t know what it is.

“Has she been eating Oreos?” other parents asked after seeing my daughter laugh on the playground.

Sometimes I nod and smile, blaming the darkened area on the cream-soaked cookies. But most of the time, I am forced to explain that my daughter has cavities and this was the alternative to general anesthesia. I was a little surprised, but most of the time, other parents sympathize with a difficult decision. Plus, they’re often interested to hear that fillers aren’t the only option. I’m glad to be able to tell them about our experience.

When my pediatric dentist warned about SDF stains, I knew he was worried I wouldn’t like the look of Elle’s teeth. But my daughter isn’t bothered by her stained teeth, and I don’t mind the look at all. In fact, I kind of like it. Makes it look more like my side of the family.

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