Employee & Community Health

Tooth varnish paints a future of healthy smiles

1/10/2019 by Dr. Valeria Cristiani

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The next time you bring your child in for a regular well-child visit, you may notice something new. Your nurse or provider may take a minute or two to paint a fluoride varnish on their teeth. What’s up with that?

This simple treatment for children six months to five years old has been found to be an easy way to prevent cavities and slow the progress of very early cavity formation. Fluoride varnish is applied to teeth every three to six months. It’s backed by the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Here’s what to expect at your well-child visit:

  • Your child’s electronic health record will prompt the provider that fluoride varnish is due.
  • If you have an infant or toddler, you and the provider will sit knee-to-knee with your child on your lap between you. You’ll gently hold your child’s arms.
  • The nurse or provider will dry the child’s teeth with a piece of gauze, then using a little brush, they’ll paint the varnish on all tooth surfaces. That’s it!

Children can eat or drink anything immediately, but should hold off on sticky foods for four hours and wait to brush their teeth until the next day.

While providers have been applying fluoride varnish in Employee and Community Health (ECH) for a while, nurses began doing the treatment in December 2018, giving them another way to help care for kids.

So how’s it being received? Kids love it. The varnish has a yummy bubblegum flavor. And parents have been very accepting.

Fluoride varnish is just one step in creating a lifetime of healthy smiles for your child:

  • Brushing. Brush teeth twice a day after the first tooth. For children three and younger, use a toothbrush with a smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice. After age three, increase the amount of toothpaste to pea-size. Up until about age six, parents will need to help their children with brushing.
  • Healthy-eating habits. Encourage eating lots of fruits and veggies, little or no sugary foods or drinks and less-processed food. These same habits will also help prevent obesity.
  • Plenty of water. Water is good for every part of our body and our teeth are no exception. Fluoridated water is the best, because the fluoridation helps strengthen teeth. Well water needs to be tested for fluoride to know if it is good for your teeth. Keep in mind that bottled water is only fluoridated if it's spelled out on the label.
  • Regular dental checkups and care. Take your child to the dentist after the first tooth emerges or by their first birthday.

Dr. Valeria Cristiani is a pediatrician with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She co-chairs the Olmsted County Children's Oral Health Task Force and also is a member of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, a nonprofit group that supports oral health around the state.