The Best Way to Look After Kids' Teeth

Fluoride varnish may reduce cavities in children at high risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) Whether it's teaching best brushing practices or limiting Halloween candy, parents play a role in helping keep their kids' teeth healthy. Knowing how effective dental practices are is helpful too.

A recent study reviewed whether any changes should be made to current recommendations regarding children's dental health.

The main piece of new information was that fluoride varnishes can be effective in reducing children's risk of cavities.

"Get your child regular dental check-ups."

This study, led by Roger Chou, MD, of the Pacific Northwest Evidence-Based Practice Center at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, looked at the best practices for reducing cavities in children under age 5.

In particular, the researchers were looking for research published since 2004, when the US Preventive Services Task Force published their findings on children's dental health.

The researchers in this study reviewed all the studies related to screening and treating children for cavities or cavity prevention in two large research databases. 

The researchers could not find any studies that looked at whether having primary care pediatricians screen children for possible cavities made a difference in the children developing cavities or not.

One study did find that pediatricians screening their patients helped a little bit with identifying cavities, but it wasn't clear whether that made a difference in the child's long-term dental health.

The researchers also did not find any recent studies that evaluated how effective it was for children to receive fluoride supplementation by mouth to prevent cavities.

However, the researchers did find three studies that looked at how effective a fluoride varnish was in reducing cavities for kids.

An analysis of those three studies found that fluoride varnishes reduced children's cavities by 18 to 59 percent compared to children who had not had fluoride varnishes.

The researchers also found three studies that evaluated the effectiveness of the use of xylitol, a sugar alcohol that has previously been shown to help improve dental health.

However, the results of these three trials together did not determine how effective xylitol was in reducing children's cavities.

Among all the other new studies that had been published since 2004, the results supported those of past studies regarding the best practices for reducing children's dental health.

Among these findings were a link between early exposure to fluoride and the risk of developing enamel fluorosis.

Enamel fluorosis is the development of white spots on teeth caused by too much exposure to fluoride. 

The overall conclusions of this study were that the US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations are still valid.

"There is no direct evidence that screening by primary care clinicians reduces early childhood caries [cavities]," the researchers wrote.

"Evidence previously reviewed by the US Preventive Services Task Force found oral fluoride supplementation effective at reducing caries incidence, and new evidence supports the effectiveness of fluoride varnish in higher-risk children," they wrote.

This study was published July 15 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for the US Preventive Services Task Force. The researchers declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 12, 2013
Last Updated:
April 16, 2014