What is Fluoride Varnish? – Use, Benefits & Treatment

It is a fact that children are usually more susceptible to rapid caries progression. However, fluoride treatment and products have shown a great deal of improvement in the oral health and hygiene of children throughout their developmental stages. Fluoride, also known as the tooth protector, binds with the tooth enamel and helps in reducing the risk of dental caries and cavities.

Although fluoride toothpaste may be beneficial in preventing caries, dentists recommend fluoride treatments for children at least once in a year. One of the conventional fluoride treatments that are used for children is fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is a concentrated solution that is applied and allowed to absorb into the tooth enamel. It is typically performed under the supervision of a dentist or a dental hygienist.

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Clinical evidence claims that fluoride varnish is an excellent treatment to prevent tooth decay in children at moderate to high risk of developing dental caries and cavity. (1)Today’s article will highlight the procedure of fluoride varnish. Moreover, we will also take a closer look at the benefits, risks, and use of fluoride varnish, especially for children.

What is fluoride varnish?

Fluoride varnish is a topical fluoride therapy. In this treatment, a concentrated form of fluoride is usually painted or coated on the tooth surface by a dentist or a dental hygienist. 1ml of fluoride varnish typically consists of the following ingredients –

  • 50 mg sodium fluoride
  • 8 mg of fluoride ion
  • An alcoholic solution of synthetic resins

Today, there are more than 30 varieties of fluoride varnish available in the market. When fluoride varnish is applied to the tooth enamel, dentin, or cementum, it remineralizes the tooth surface and makes it resistant to bacterial acid attack. (2)

What is the use of fluoride varnish?

Some of the typical uses of fluoride varnish include the following –

  • As a topical fluoride treatment for children above five years of age and who are at moderate to high risk of developing dental caries. (3)
  • As a fluoridated cavity varnish
  • Enamel caries which require the topical application of highly concentrated fluoride solution
  • To prevent root dentin caries among elderly people
  • Desensitizing agent for exposed root surfaces
  • Reverse early carious lesions (4)
  • To treat dentin hypersensitivity
  • In orthodontic patients around the bands and brackets to prevent caries development

Now that you know the indications of fluoride varnish. Let’s also check out some of the contraindications of fluoride varnish –

  • Fluoride varnish is ineffective at areas with open cavities
  • Patients at low risk of developing dental caries may not necessarily require high concentrated fluoride varnish therapy. In such cases, other means of fluoride supply, such as the public drinking water and fluoride toothpaste, may suffice.
  • Teeth that are prone to discoloration after fluoride varnish therapy
  • Patients who have gingivitis or any other gum or oral disease
  • People who are following another fluoride therapy in-office or at-home

What is the procedure for fluoride varnish treatment?

A dentist or a dental hygienist typically perform fluoride varnish therapy. A 5% sodium fluoride solution consists of 22,600 ppm of fluoride. Fluoride varnish therapy is exceptionally comfortable and can be completed in a short time.

During the procedure –

  • Each tooth surface is cleaned and dried
  • A thin layer of fluoride varnish is applied on the tooth surface with the help of a small applicator brush. (5)
  • The varnish is allowed to dry for at least one to four minutes

After the procedure –

  • The patient is instructed to follow a soft diet for at least two hours after the fluoride varnish therapy
  • Do not brush or floss the teeth for at least four to six hours after the treatment.

Fluoride varnish typically coats the tooth surface and hardens immediately on contact with saliva. It occludes the dentinal tubules and reduces dentin hypersensitivity. Moreover, the layer gets absorbed into the tooth surface, forming a protective layer against tooth decay. (6)

What are the benefits and disadvantages associated with fluoride varnish?

Some of the critical benefits of fluoride varnish are listed below –

  • Fluoride varnish dries quickly and does not wash away with saliva
  • It is one of the most patient-friendly and compliant treatment
  • Fluoride varnish therapy involves minimal risk of fluoride ingestion
  • Fluoride varnish cannot cause dental fluorosis
  • The varnish solution is available in different flavors to treat young children
  • It inhibits the growth of S. mutans in the mouth thereby reducing the risk of dental caries (7)
  • It has a long-lasting effect as compared to the traditional gel and tray method of fluoride treatment
  • It remineralizes the tooth surface and protects the tooth from a bacterial acid attack.

While fluoride varnish may present a wide range of benefits, there are some risks associated with it –

  • Fluoride varnish usually leaves a yellowish-white coat on the tooth surface when they dry. This may temporarily change the color of the teeth. However, the yellow color fades as the varnish wears away with time.
  • Since fluoride varnish covers a large surface area on the tooth, it requires a prescription, unlike the gel and tray method, when used at-home.
  • Some patients may not like the taste of fluoride varnish and experience nausea. This may usually happen during the first 24 hours post-treatment.

Is fluoride varnish safe?

Fluoride varnish therapy uses a small amount of fluoride that is coated on the tooth surface. Moreover, its quick-drying property minimizes the risk of swallowing fluoride. Therefore, fluoride varnish is safe but must be used under the supervision of a dentist or dental hygienist.

Take away message

Fluoride varnish therapy is one of the most common fluoride treatments which aims to prevent caries development among young children and treating dentin hypersensitivity among the elderly. Typically, dentists recommend the use of fluoride varnish in children at moderate to high risk of caries or cavity development. This procedure uses a concentrated solution of sodium fluoride, which is applied on the tooth surface.

The fluoride varnish consists of an alcoholic solution of synthetic resins, which helps in the immediate drying of the varnish on the tooth surface. Moreover, it provides a long-lasting effect as compared to the gel and tray method.

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All of the properties of fluoride varnish, as mentioned above, makes it one of the safest fluoride treatments. However, it is best always to consult your dentist and discuss the need for fluoride varnish therapy.

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