Have you heard of fluoride varnish? This preventive treatment helps strengthen and protect teeth, reducing risk of tooth decay. Next time your child is at the dentist, or even at your pediatrician, you may want to ask about a fluoride varnish.
We know that fluoride is good for teeth, and we can get it in many ways. From fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses (which you should use daily), to drinking water, regular fluoride intake is an important component of good oral health habits.
Fun fact: Fluoride is even present naturally in many foods and drinks, like bananas, avocados, coffee, wine, shrimp, and more.
So, what is a fluoride varnish?
Simply put, fluoride varnish is a more concentrated form of fluoride, painted onto the top and sides of a patient’s teeth. The varnish itself is not a permanent layer—it stays on a patient’s teeth for several hours, allowing the fluoride to seep into the enamel and strengthen the teeth. To visualize the process, it may help to understand how fluoride works in the first place.
The outer coating of your teeth, the enamel, is the hardest substance in your body, even stronger than your bones. But that protective layer gets weakened and eaten away when we consume foods and beverages high in sugars and carbohydrates, leading to tooth decay and cavities.
When fluoride is introduced, through toothpastes, mouth rinses, drinking water, varnish, or other sources, it actually works to “remineralize” your enamel. Additionally, before tooth decay even occurs, fluoride acts to further strengthen enamel, adding additional protection down the road.
To sum it all up, a fluoride varnish is a great way to add a serious layer of protection to your teeth, which can help you avoid costly dental procedures in the future.
Who can get a fluoride varnish?
Fluoride varnishes are mainly used for children, but the truth is that anyone at risk of tooth decay could benefit from the preventive treatment. However, most insurers, including Medicaid, only cover fluoride varnish for children. In North Carolina, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, children on Medicaid can receive a fluoride varnish a maximum of once every three month period.
Given topical fluoride varnish’s important protective benefits, it will be important that Medicaid permanently adopt policies to reimburse fluoride placement for all age groups, even after the pandemic.
If you are an adult and are interested in a fluoride varnish, have a conversation with your dentist—they can likely help you find out if your insurance will help pay for it.
A similar treatment: dental sealants
Similar to a fluoride varnish, dental sealants create a protective layer to ward off tooth decay.. Unlike a varnish, sealants are actually semi-permanent (they do wear off eventually), sealing off grooves in your teeth and providing a protective layer against foods and drinks that can cause decay.
While fluoride varnish must be applied several times each year to be effective, sealants on children’s teeth are effective up to nine years, though they should be checked by a dentist regularly as they can wear away.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, dental sealants and fluoride varnish are two effective preventive treatments that are powerful tools to prevent tooth decay and costly dental treatments necessary to repair damaged teeth.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where everyone who could benefit from preventive treatments can access them. If you have access to a dentist, they can work with you to identify the mix of preventive measures that best fits your needs. And if you don’t have a dentist, check NCOHC’s access map here to find an affordable access to dental services near you!
NCOHC is working to build a more perfect oral health ecosystem, one where all people, no matter where they live, how much they earn, what language they speak, or what their life circumstances are, can access the care they deserve. You can take action and join the movement today by visiting NC4Change.