Oral Health Program: Fluoride Varnish

The use of fluoride has been a major factor in the decline in the prevalence and severity of dental caries (i.e., tooth decay) in the United States. When used appropriately, fluoride is both safe and effective in preventing and controlling dental caries.

Fluoride varnishes are a safe, simple, effective, inexpensive treatment that can be applied to the teeth of infant and children. The technique can be prescribed and be easily done by medical or dental providers with materials and equipment that are readily available. The Wisconsin Medicaid program has expanded its reimbursement policy to include the application of fluoride varnish for children by certified health professionals, such as physicians, nurses, dental hygienists, and physician assistants.

Why do we recommend putting fluoride varnish on children's teeth?

Tooth decay is one of the most common preventable diseases seen in children. Children as young as 12-18 months can get cavities. Cavities in baby teeth can cause pain, are unsightly, can cause economic hardships for families, and can prevent children from being able to eat, speak, sleep, and learn properly. Children do not lose all their baby teeth until they are about 11 or 12 years old.

What is fluoride varnish?

Fluoride varnish is a protective coating that is painted on teeth to help prevent new cavities and to help stop cavities that have already started.

Is fluoride varnish safe?

Yes, fluoride varnish can be used on babies from the time they have their first teeth. Only a very small amount of fluoride varnish is used. This method of providing fluoride to teeth has been used in Canada and Europe for many years. The FDA has approved varnishes for off-label use. Because the clinical evidence of effectiveness and safety is so convincing, the off-label use of these varnishes as caries preventive agents does not involve a risk of liability.

How is fluoride varnish put on the teeth?

The varnish is painted on the teeth. It is quick and easy to apply. It is well accepted by children, but your child may cry just because babies and children don't like having things put in their mouths, especially by people they don't know! Your child's teeth will be dull yellow after the fluoride varnish is painted on, but the yellow color will come off when you brush your child's teeth the next morning.

After application, do not give your child hard or sticky foods for 24 hours and remember to wait until the morning after the application of fluoride varnish to brush or clean your child's teeth.

How long does the fluoride last?

The fluoride coating will work best if it is painted on the teeth two to four times per year.

For more information about fluoride varnish, contact your dental or health care provider, local public health department or the Wisconsin Oral Health Program.

Last Revised: April 17, 2019