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Philly journalist discusses silver diamine fluoride and other children’s health issues Date: 12/20/17

By Mary Otto


Anna Nguyen

A prominent pediatric dental organization recently issued guidelines for a treatment that can offer a painless, minimally invasive alternative to drilling and filling teeth.  

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has offered a “provisional recommendation” for the use of silver diamine fluoride (SDF) to halt and manage tooth decay in children.

The product, which is painted onto the diseased area of the tooth, been used in Japan for years but has only recently attracted the attention of U.S. healthcare providers.

SDF has a cosmetic drawback: it turns the decayed area of the tooth black. If the decay is advanced, or if the tooth is abscessed, more traditional methods of care are required. But SDF does represent an important tool for stopping tooth decay before the progress of the disease creates an emergency, dentist and AAPD president James Nickman told Philly.com’s Anna Nguyen, who this fall offered readers an informative package about the treatment.

In the following Q and A, Nguyen discusses her coverage of oral health and other topics on her wide-ranging beat. She also shares some wisdom on tapping experts to get helpful information to her audience.


Tell us about Philly.com – how it works, the readers it serves.

Philly.com is the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News which makes up the Philadelphia Media Network. On the website, you’ll find stories from the Inquirer and Daily News, and Philly.com produces original content. We serve the Philadelphia region which includes the city, counties surrounding Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and South Jersey.

You are the assistant editor for Kids Health at Philly.com. Tell us a little more about how you manage your responsibilities there.

My main role is managing a team of 17 health professionals and parenting experts— pediatricians, psychologists, dieticians and educators—from the Inquirer’s Health Advisory panel to cover all aspects related to kids’ health. We cover a wide range: teen health, sexual health and safety, general pediatric topics like colds and flu, vaccines, infectious diseases, injury prevention, food allergies, brain science, medication safety, mental illness, mental health, sleep, social media, screen time. I could go on and on! I work with Charlotte Sutton, Health and Science Editor of the Inquirer, and Kelly O’Shea, deputy health editor at Philadelphia Media Network, and staff writers to coordinate coverage.

The experts write articles for Philly.com and I edit them before they go online. I try to stay on top of the latest in kids’ health by following journals such as Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics and JAMA Pediatrics. Then I’ll seek out the right expert to cover a study or issue. The experts also come up with ideas of their own. As a mom of two girls, ages 5 and 8, I get ideas from my own experiences and talking to other parents as well.

Occasionally, it works better for me to do a Q&A (with them). It’s our goal to make the information helpful and easy to understand for parents and caregivers. I really enjoy working with our panel. They’ve shared so much valuable information with our readers.

Your recent posts have offered information on a variety of topics, from school suspensions to water safety. How did you decide to pick up on the AAPD’s new guidelines on the use of silver diamine fluoride for treating tooth decay?

I think it’s going to have a big impact — kids with untreated cavities due to the lack of insurance now have an affordable option. As I mentioned in the story, cavities are one of the most widespread chronic infectious diseases among children in the U.S.

Your piece featured a very informative interview with James Nickman, a dentist and president of the AAPD. What struck you most about what you learned from him?

SDF will probably help halt and prevent tooth decay for many children as it becomes more available. The review didn’t find any major downsides except that the SDF will turn the cavity and tooth decay black.

Is there another oral health piece you are particularly proud of?

We had a guest writer for Philly.com highlight the issue of tooth decay in Philadelphia communities and one way it’s being addressed through a mobile dentist office. I’m glad we were able to bring some attention to this issue.