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Tackling tooth decay in American Indian and Alaska Native children

Silver ion products highlighted as approach to manage dental caries at 2016 symposium

May 08, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

ADA members can learn more about what the Association and others are doing to help the group that has among the highest levels of tooth decay in the U.S.: American Indian and Alaska Native Children.

In March, information from the 2016 Symposium on Early Childhood Caries in American Indian and Alaska Native Children, including slideshows from presenters, became available on

The posted information can help dental professionals learn about the issues involved and the efforts in reducing the tooth decay in young children in these communities, said Dr. Lindsey Robinson, ADA 13th District trustee and a pediatric dentist in California, who attended the symposium.

The level of tooth decay among American Indian and Alaska Native children is more than four times higher than white non-Hispanic children, according to an Indian Health Service data brief from 2015. More than half, 54 percent, of this population of children between 1 and 5 years of age have experienced tooth decay.

A highlight of the August 2016 symposium, Dr. Robinson said, included discussion of evidence presented on effective use of silver ion products as a non-operative way to manage dental caries.

Dr. Mendoza
Dr. Frank Mendoza, a pediatric dentist with the Indian Health Service Dental Clinic in Warm Springs, Oregon, shared data he gathered over three years on the use of topical silver nitrate as a non-surgical treatment for dental caries in his young patients.

Dr. Mendoza found with this treatment approach, far fewer children needed operative treatment for caries, and the rate of new caries formation decreased. He called this approach to managing caries "safe, fast, easy and inexpensive." In part for this work, Dr. Mendoza in April received a Presidential Citation from ADA President Dr. Gary Roberts at the 2017 National Oral Health Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Dr. Robinson said Dr. Mendoza's presentation aligns with her personal experience using silver ion products, which she described as "another tool in the dental caries management toolbox."

"I've found silver ion products to be an effective approach to slowing the progression of caries in very young children and in preventing the need for operating room dental care," she said, adding that the approach could potentially be a useful one for Medicaid-eligible and other high-risk populations, although more research is needed.

In addition to Dr. Mendoza's presentation, dental professionals can find background information and scientific reports exhibited by fellow ADA members, physicians and others at the symposium online at

The symposium held in August 2016 was the sixth in a series of gatherings bringing together tribal representatives, dentists, academic researchers and other health professionals to explore ways to mitigate tooth decay in the primary dentition of American Indian and Alaska Native children.

The symposia have been organized by Dee Robertson, M.D., a retired Indian Health Service pediatrician, with support from the ADA and DentaQuest Foundation. The original stimulus for these gatherings came from a 2007 ADA-sponsored summit on American Indian/American Native Access to Oral Health Care.

For more information on the symposia and the groups behind this effort, email Dr. Robertson at