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  • Dr. David Alfaro

Are you swishing with Silver?

I have been working in Nelson for almost a year and I am finding that so many people refuse to use fluoride "because it is a neurotoxin" but proudly proclaim their love for silver. There are silver health care products of all sorts at many of the local stores, including mouthrinses and toothpastes. Some people mix up their own concoctions and even swallow the stuff.

But does it work? Is it safe? Is it regulated? I didn't know much about colloidal silver so I decided to do some research.

Now before you go calling me biased against natural health products, please understand that I do believe in the antibacterial properties of silver.

We routinely use a silver product in the office to fight tooth decay. Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) is a relatively new treatment for dental caries (in Canada) and we are using it pretty much every day at Nelson Ave Dental. It is not, however, a colloidal silver solution so it is a bit different than the silver dental products sold in local stores. Advantage Arrest (SDF) has been approved by Health Canada as an anti-caries medication and has a natural health product number (NPN: 80075746 ). There are dozens of human clinical trials looking at the efficacy and safety of SDF.

So, yes, silver can be used to fight dental caries; it is just not a colloidal version.

Do we know that colloidal silver products prevent dental problems?

Well.....we don't!

Even though local supermarkets and pharmacies are stocked with colloidal silver dental products, there is not a single clinical trail available that looks at the efficacy or safety of colloidal silver as a medication to fight tooth decay, gum disease, root canal infections or even bad breath. If you know of such a study, please send it my way!

The only studies that I could find are done in a lab, where the antibacterial effect of colloidal silver is tested; there are only 2 or 3 articles and they are sponsored by the people who manufacture the products (bias??). They do PROVE that colloidal silver kills common oral pathogens that cause tooth decay! have to look at the details. In one of the studies the researchers used a 200 ppm solution of colloidal silver with 24 hours of contact time with bacteria in petri dishes to obtain a bactericidal effect. This is not clinically relevant. Common colloidal silver mouthrinses are 30-60 ppm, and most people will swish for 30 seconds; who in the world is going to hold that in their mouths for 24 hours???

Yes, there are plenty of people on internet forums and health care professionals who swear by the stuff, but I need real scientific proof. Sorry!

But colloidal silver is safe, so it doesn't hurt to use it, right?


Unlike like lack of evidence of the efficacy of colloidal silver against dental problems, I could find plenty of animal and human studies that report the potential dangers of it.

Here's a list of some of the harmful effects of colloidal silver:

-it can turn your skin and eyes gray

-it can damage your kidneys

-it can damage the lining of your stomach and intestines

-it can collect in your brain (although it is debated if it crosses the blood brain barrier)

-it can cross to the placenta

-it is a neurotoxin

And.....the manufacturing and disposal of these silver products can be harmful to the environment!

But it doesn't have a poison control warning on the bottle, so it must be ok!

If you are using a colloidal silver product, check to see if it has a Natural Product Number. If it does, that company has taken the steps to prove that the product works, that it is safe when taken properly, has clearly defined ingredients....and lets you know if it is toxic and what to do if you take too much. This allows for health professionals to understand what dose/concentration is safe and effective, and what dose is harmful. Important information, don't you think?

If the product doesn't have an NPN or a DIN, it is probably licensed as a cosmetic product. The regulations and requirements of the manufacturer are much lower than for registration with an NPN or DIN, and many producers are able to go this route by avoiding specific health claims on the packaging.....and they know this!

Take a close look at the packaging of your silver product. It will say something like "best toothpaste ever" or "leaves mouth feeling fresh".....because they can say that as cosmetic products. But make a health claim like "fights cavities"....that becomes a medication and needs approval from Health Canada and comes with a bunch of hoops to jump through......for your SAFETY!

So....they just skip that whole regulation process and tell you nice things about their products instead of making health claims. And people buy it.

The reality of using cosmetic products for health purposes is that you don't know if they actually work, yet they could be harmful if ingested. There may be enough silver to harm a child in that mouthwash, but it does not have to be on the label, because it says "fresh breath" instead of "fights gum disease".

Are you really willing to take a gamble like that?

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Dave

P.S. I am not sponsored by Oral Science; this is not an advertorial.

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