Fluoride Varnish as Effective as Sealants in Preventing Decay

Dentistry Today


Fissure sealants can be an effective tool in preventing pediatric tooth decay. Yet Cardiff University reports that applying fluoride varnish can be just as effective while saving the National Health Service money. In collaboration with the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board Community Dental Service, the study treated more than 800 children in areas of high economic and social deprivation in South Wales to discover which technique is more effective and cost-effective for children age 6 to 7 years old. 

Fissure sealants are plastic coatings applied to teeth to stop food and bacteria from becoming stuck, and they last for several years. Fluoride varnish can be applied to teeth twice a year for added protection. According to the study, 17.5% of the children who had the fluoride varnish had decay in their molars that was bad enough for a filling or an extraction after 3 years. In the sealant group, 19.6% had decay in their first molars. Over the 3 years, there was a cost savings of £68.13 (or $87.96) per child in the varnish group.

“Our research has shown that the fluoride varnish does prevent tooth decay just as well as a more difficult and expensive treatment. Fluoride varnish is simple to apply and requires less complex intervention than that required for placing plastic sealants,” said Ivor Chestnutt, BDS, PhD, MPH, a professor at Cardiff University’s School of Dentistry and leader of the study. “This study provides invaluable evidence for National Health Service dental services in the United Kingdom and has implications for dental prevention around the world. 

According to the university, 2.4 billion people around the world or 35% of the population have untreated caries in their permanent teeth. The first adult molars, which erupt at the age of 6 years, are particularly vulnerable to decay. Diet is a major factor in the growth of plaque, driven by sugary foods and drinks. Rates of decay, the university adds, are often higher in children who live in disadvantaged communities.

“The results of this trial provide important evidence as to how we tackle the still unacceptable levels of tooth decay in disadvantaged children,” said Dinah Channing, community dental service manager with the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

The study, “Fissure Seal of Fluoride Varnish? A Randomized Trial of Relative Effectiveness,” was published by the Journal of Dental Research.

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