Fluoride Varnish: What Parents Need to Know

Fluoride varnish is a recent addition to dentists’ pediatric fluoride treatment toolkit. It is a safe and effective fluoride treatment that helps strengthen the enamel and prevent or arrest decay. Talk to your dentist or pediatrician about using varnish to help prevent cavities in your child.

What is Fluoride Varnish?

Fluoride varnish is a treatment used to prevent or slow down tooth decay. Decay occurs when bacteria break down the outside of the teeth. This decay can be minor, but it can also lead to permanent damage, known as a cavity or dental caries.

A child sits in a dental chair while a dentist examines her teeth.

Preventing and treating cavities is important because they can ultimately lead to serious infections, pain, and the loss of teeth. Fluoride varnish is just one component of tooth decay and cavity prevention. Along with regular dental care, brushing and flossing, and a healthy diet, varnish reduces the likelihood of cavity formation.

Varnish is different from earlier fluoride applications, such as gels applied in foam trays. Varnish is painted on the teeth and holds fluoride close to the surface of teeth for several hours. It is then brushed off the teeth.

Is Dental Fluoride Treatment Necessary?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of fluoride varnish in early childhood for kids at risk of tooth decay. It should be used at least every six months. The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommends varnish as a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay in children 6 years and younger.

Whether or not your child needs fluoride varnish depends on their risk factors and other aspects of their oral health care. Talk to your child’s dentist to determine if this is a necessary or beneficial treatment.

What are the Pros and Cons of Fluoride Varnish?

The primary benefits of fluoride varnish are to prevent decay and dental caries. Your child is vulnerable as soon as they develop their first tooth and should be engaging in regular dental care right away.

 A child in a dental chair picks a toy from a basket.

When the enamel on the outside of the tooth begins to decay, the body will seek to repair it through a process called remineralization. Fluoride treatments boost this process, protecting the teeth from decay and cavities. One study found that fluoride varnish increased natural remineralization by 65%. Other studies have found that application of the varnish prevents cavities.

The risks of using fluoride varnish are extremely low. As compared to past gel fluoride treatments, children swallow very little of the fluoride from applied varnish. There have been very few reports of adverse events to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding fluoride varnish. Most of the few reports are related to allergies.

What to Expect When Getting Fluoride Varnish

When a dentist or pediatrician applies fluoride varnish, they paint it directly onto all sides of the teeth using a small brush. It is not painful at all, but it does require holding the child still throughout the process. As a parent, you might be asked to sit with your child on your lap for the application.

 A dentist helps a mother look at her daughter’s teeth while the girl sits in a dental chair.

Once applied, the varnish hardens quickly as it comes into contact with saliva and forms a coating on the teeth. Your child will be able to feel the coating, but they cannot lick it off or swallow it. Your child can eat right away but should avoid hot foods or liquids and be limited to soft foods.

Your child will brush their teeth 4 to 12 hours after the application to remove the coating. Your dentist or pediatrician will tell you how long to wait. Your child should not brush or floss during that period.

SDF vs. Fluoride Varnish

Another fluoride treatment, called silver diamine fluoride (SDF), should not be confused with fluoride varnish. The varnish is preventative, while SDF is reactive. It treats and stops decay that has already begun to form a cavity. Dentists also use SDF to treat dentin sensitivity, which is the only use approved by the FDA. Using SDF to treat cavities is an off-label use. Your dentist can tell you if SDF is appropriate for you or your child.

Learn more about your child’s dental care with our free Pediatric Dentistry eBook. Contact us today or request an appointment online to talk with a caring, professional pediatric dentist about your child’s dental needs.


    Newtown Dentistry

  • DATE

    September 2, 2022


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