Fluoride Varnish: Is it Right for Your Patients and Practice?

We all know that good oral healthcare begins at an early age (by age 1, if we’re following the guidelines of the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry and American Dental Association). For optimal compliance in young dental patients, a lot practices turn to products that are quick and easy to use like fluoride varnish. If you’re not familiar, fluoride varnish is painted on the teeth versus a fluoride gel or foam that is put into a tray.

So when is a fluoride varnish the right choice for your patients and for your practice? That’s exactly what I’m exploring in this post. First, let’s go over some of the basics.

The Application Process

The application process is really fast and simple. When you’re using fluoride varnish, one of the advantages is that the surface of the tooth only needs to be “toothbrush clean.” Full application only takes about 30 seconds, so that’s a huge time savings to your dental team and to your patients.

Varnish Adhesion

Fluoride varnishes are relentless – they will remain in place wherever you paint them. Only a thin film needs to be painted on for the varnish to be effective. And to set, the patient only needs to close their mouth so that the varnish comes into contact with saliva, which sets it onto tooth surfaces until it is brushed off.


The fluoride varnish between the set surface layer continues to flow from treated and untreated surfaces for at least four hours. In other words, if the varnish is painted only on the buccal and occlusal surfaces, it will flow on its own to the lingual surfaces and into hard-to-reach places, interproximally.

The Formula

Some varnishes contain additional beneficial ingredients, like calcium, which can strengthen teeth and help provide relief from hypersensitivity. Varnishes are able to do this because they can penetrate and seal dentin tubules.

Who Should Get Varnish Treatment?

Good question. Varnish treatments are a great option for young patients, ages 1 through 18, as part of an annual exam. Because the process is quick and simple, this is an ideal treatment for these young patients who might get antsy in the dentist’s chair.

Varnishes are also a good option for some adults who are at high risk for caries caused by poor oral hygiene, enamel defects, eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, active orthodontic treatment or xerostomia. For these patients, two or more applications a year can be an effective way to prevent caries.

Other Considerations about Fluoride Varnishes

We’ve covered a lot of the great benefits of using a varnish. But there are some other things to keep in mind when you’re making this decision. First, some patients may not like the waxy residue that’s left on the teeth when fluoride varnish is used. You can remind patients that this will wear off the next time they eat, and this may help them accept the short-term waxy residue issue.

Next, some insurance may not cover the treatment for patients, meaning they’ll have to pay out of pocket. If this turns out to be the case, be up-front with patients who may be used to having this treatment covered by insurance. Have a clear financial policy available, too.

How does your practice provide fluoride treatment? Gels in trays? Varnish? Do you let the patient decide? Share your experiences in the comments below!

One thought on “Fluoride Varnish: Is it Right for Your Patients and Practice?

  1. Very informative post on fluoride varnish. It’s important to know what it does and if it’d be worth giving to your patients. Thanks for sharing!

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