Exactly How Long Does Fluoride Varnish Last?

Want to know exactly how long you can expect fluoride varnish to last? We’ll answer that question and more in this Aspen Dental guide.

Have you ever wondered why your dentist recommends dental cleaning products with fluoride in it? It’s because of fluoride’s natural ability to help strengthen the enamel of teeth. Many over the counter toothpastes and mouthwashes contain fluoride, and can help keep your teeth strong, clean, and cavity-free. 

But have you ever heard of fluoride varnish and wondered what it does? If so, keep reading because in this Aspen Dental guide, we’re going to discuss that and more, including:

  • What fluoride varnish is
  • Who can get fluoride varnish
  • The benefits of fluoride varnish
  • How long fluoride varnish can last
  • What to expect at your fluoride varnish appointment
  • If there are any side effects to getting fluoride varnish treatment

What is fluoride varnish and what does it do?

Fluoride is a safe way to help strengthen and protect your teeth

male dentist working with a patient while she sits back in the chair
Both children and adults alike can get a variety of benefits from a fluoride varnish treatment. 

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in nature (in soil, rocks, and water) but it is also present in our bones and teeth. Because it is known to strengthen and protect our teeth’s enamel, it is commonly added to dental products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes. In addition to regular visits to your dentist, brushing with fluoride toothpaste and rinsing your mouth with fluoride mouthwash, is one of the best ways to ensure you’re maintaining good oral health. 

Fluoride is also typically added in small amounts to municipal tap water in order to ensure residents are getting enough in their diet to help keep the enamel of their teeth protected. 

Getting enough fluoride through your dental products and drinking water can: 

  • Help your tooth enamel
  • Slow down tooth decay
  • Possibly reverse signs of tooth decay
  • Prevent cavities
  • Prevent an abundance of bacteria from forming in the mouth

But did you know there is an additional way to get fluoride to help your teeth? Fluoride varnish is a treatment done by your dentist that involves applying a concentrated form of fluoride to your teeth. This varnish has more fluoride in it than your typical fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash, and it is designed to last much longer on your teeth as well. If you’re going in for a fluoride varnish treatment, this is typically because your dentist wants to give you a little extra protection when it comes to the enamel of your teeth. 

Fluoride varnish is applied when your dentist notices some weak or decaying areas of your tooth, and wants to stop or reverse this damage. By applying the varnish directly to the affected teeth, the concentrated fluoride can immediately go to work. After application, the varnish is easily absorbed by the enamel and can quickly begin to strengthen and protect the weak areas of the tooth. 

Who can get fluoride varnish?

Who might be a good candidate for fluoride varnish?

two aspen dental dentists smiling with a woman and a child sitting on her lap
Whether you want to protect and strengthen your teeth or that of your child, a fluoride varnish treatment could be the way to go. 

Many people believe that fluoride varnish is only for children. While it is true that fluoride varnish is very helpful for young kids, they aren’t the only ones who can benefit from it. Candidates for a fluoride varnish treatment include:

  • Children. It’s important to instill good oral health habits in children at a young age. That way they’ll understand how important it is to keep their teeth and mouth healthy and happy. Many parents choose to give fluoride varnish treatments to children starting at six months and continuing with additional doses a few times each year. This ensures that as soon as babies start to teethe, their enamel is protected. 

Children can continue to receive fluoride varnish for as long as their dentist decides it’s necessary so they are protected from developing cavities at such a young age. Using fluoride varnish on their primary (baby) teeth ensures that the teeth fall out naturally, rather than from decay. 

As the child grows, they’ll learn how to better brush their teeth by themselves, until the fluoride varnish is no longer necessary.

  • Elderly. In addition to children, older people may also have a hard time keeping up with proper dental hygiene. If they are unable to reach all of their teeth for cleaning, they may be at a higher risk of developing cavities. Elderly people can benefit from seeing their dentist for a fluoride varnish treatment a few times a year. This ensures that even if they cannot get to all the areas of their teeth where plaque accrues, they have an extra measure of protection on the enamel of their teeth. 
  • Special needs people. Special needs patients may also find it difficult to ensure they are removing plaque daily. Getting a fluoride treatment every couple of months may lower the chances that they will develop cavities.
  • People with poor diets. Because the bacteria that live in our mouths feed on starches and sugars, those patients with diets high in these types of foods and beverages may be at a greater risk of cavities. The more sugar and starches introduced, the greater the buildup of plaque and the potential demineralization (weakening of the enamel) from acid. 

Unbalanced diets can increase the chance that the enamel of your teeth will be weakened, leading to cavities and decay. A fluoride varnish treatment can repair the damage done by the acid on the tooth enamel, and start the process of remineralization (strengthening the enamel).

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  • People on certain medications or undergoing medical procedures. Certain medications can cause dry mouth, which slows down the production of saliva. Saliva is essential for the remineralization process that works to keep the teeth strong and hard. If a patient is taking medication that causes this, their dentist may recommend fluoride varnish treatments to help protect their teeth from excessive demineralization.

Likewise, if patients are undergoing certain medical procedures such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, a fluoride varnish procedure could help keep the enamel of their teeth strong while undergoing these therapies.

  • Those with sensitive teeth. If you’re a patient who has sensitive teeth and visiting your dentist is uncomfortable at times, your dentist might discuss the option of including fluoride varnish treatment into your oral health regimen. Fluoride is known to also reduce tooth sensitivity, which can not only help with your regular dental check ups, but also help you enjoy hot or cold food and drinks again.

If you fall into one of these categories, and fluoride varnish sounds like something that may benefit you, it may be time to have a discussion with your dentist. 

What are the benefits of fluoride varnish?

Reasons why you might want to consider opting for a fluoride varnish treatment

dentist shaking his head and smiling with a little boy sitting down
It’s important to take care of your teeth each and every day. When you have the right amount of fluoride from dental cleaning products and fluoride varnish to help protect your tooth enamel, you’re setting yourself up for success.

If you think that getting a fluoride varnish treatment could be a good idea for you, it might be helpful to know what are some of the benefits that you can expect.

Strengthens tooth enamel

 The major benefit of doing a fluoride varnish is that it is proven to provide extra strength and protection to tooth enamel. Although tooth enamel is very hard and durable, the bacteria present in plaque can start to weaken this hard surface over time.

As the bacteria produce acid from consuming starches and sugars, the acid starts to eventually erode the tooth enamel. While you might not see any noticeable changes at first, over time, you may start to feel and see a cavity form or other evidence of decay. You want to do everything you can to ensure you prevent or stop tooth decay from worsening. Decay can lead to gum disease if it is not treated, not to mention painful teeth and gums. 

Getting a fluoride varnish will give teeth an extra layer of security, and work to prevent the demineralization process for several months. The fluoride in the varnish helps the tooth remineralize by allowing the easier absorption of calcium and phosphate, which are the two main ingredients of enamel. As the tooth remineralizes, you will notice a slow down and even a reversal in the decay process.

Helps keep children’s primary teeth in place

If you're interested in fluoride treatment for your child, you’ll be happy to know that varnish can help protect their primary teeth (baby teeth) until they fall out naturally. Although they will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth, it is still important to care for primary teeth properly. 

You wouldn’t want your child to lose their primary teeth due to decay, as this can have a negative impact on how their permanent teeth come in. Decayed primary teeth can cause the permanent teeth to come in misaligned or overcrowded. You can prevent this by ensuring the tooth enamel of the primary teeth is kept protected so they are able to fall out naturally. 

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Keeps bacteria in check

Fluoride varnish not only strengthens enamel by promoting the remineralization process, it is also responsible for keeping the harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay and cavities in check. When teeth are not cleaned properly and plaque removed on a consistent basis, it can lead to the production of bacteria.

This bacteria feeds on the starches and sugars that are not removed from the mouth, which causes them to produce acid. These acid attacks can become very problematic when they are not cared for. When you have a fluoride varnish applied, it works to protect the tooth enamel by preventing an abundance of the bacteria responsible for tooth decay.

Fluoride varnish treatments are not meant to replace proper oral hygiene, and it is still crucial that you stick to brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, using mouthwash and visiting your dentist for regular check ups. 

Prevents cavities

Because fluoride varnish keeps harmful bacteria from spreading, that means it also prevents the production of acid. Acid results in the demineralization of your tooth, which can lead to cavities. Cavities are a big deal, and it’s always a good idea if you can do something to prevent them. Without the overabundance of bacteria, there’s less chance of acid attacks that result in the formation of cavities over time.

Saves money

Taking preventative measures to ensure the health of your teeth is always a good idea. When you take the time to strengthen your enamel and reduce the chances of demineralization, you are decreasing the likelihood you’ll experience cavities or tooth decay. Preventative measures will always save you money in the long run, and eliminate the chance you’ll need expensive procedures down the road. It’s best to avoid dealing  with the problems that can develop from tooth decay like cavities and even gum disease.

Is completely safe

Fluoride varnish treatments are safe, and if recommended by your dentist, you should definitely consider getting them. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral, and it has been proven to help strengthen enamel and help prevent and treat tooth decay and cavities. It is also recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) among many other medical organizations. 

How long does fluoride varnish last?

Once you get fluoride varnish, how long can you expect it to last?

Fluoride varnish treatments are typically done a few times per year. You can work out a customized schedule with your dentist.https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/oral-health/four-myths-about-fluoride-varnish-1003943189/

Although we’d like fluoride varnish to last forever, unfortunately it does not. Dentists say that you can expect fluoride varnish to last anywhere from three to four months. After the varnish is applied, it will stay on until you brush your teeth the following day. The actual fluoride varnish will only stay on the teeth for a few days, and will eventually be worn away by your brushing. By then, the fluoride has had a chance to penetrate into the enamel, allowing it to begin strengthening and protecting it from bacteria, decay, and cavities.

By choosing to apply fluoride varnish, your teeth will have an extra layer of protection until your next fluoride varnish treatment. For best results, you’ll want to discuss with your dentist what fluoride varnish treatment plan will work best for your situation.

What happens at your fluoride varnish appointment?

If you and your dentist decide that you could benefit from a fluoride varnish treatment, that’s great news. A fluoride varnish application is one of the easiest dental procedures there is. It is painless and does not take very long to complete. Let’s take a step by step look.

Step one

Once you’re in the dental office, your dentist will first do a cleaning and a check up. This is to ensure that all the plaque and tartar are removed, and your teeth and gums are clean. If you are having a fluoride treatment done for your child, the pediatric dentist will typically clean their teeth like usual, or will wipe off the teeth with cotton. This all depends on the age of your child.

Step two

Then the fluoride varnish is applied evenly throughout your mouth. This is usually done with a small brush. There are all kinds of flavors of varnish you can choose from. The varnish can either be clear, or have a slight yellow tint to it. If your teeth look a little yellow after application, not to worry, this will disappear the next time you brush your teeth. 

Step three

After the varnish is applied, that’s it, you can expect it to protect and strengthen your teeth for the next three to four months. However, your dentist will discuss some post-application care tips in order to make sure you get the most out of each fluoride varnish treatment.

  • Do not eat or drink for 30 minutes. Your dentist will ask that after the varnish is applied, you wait at least 30 minutes before you eat or drink. This is to prevent you from accidentally taking the varnish off before it’s had time to settle. You wouldn’t want to introduce food or drinks too soon, as this may decrease the strength of the fluoride varnish and not give you the best results.
  • Brush your teeth the next day. Wait to brush your teeth until the following day. This gives the varnish a good amount of time to begin to be absorbed by the tooth enamel. You are free to brush the morning after your fluoride varnish application, and continue to brush as you normally would in the days after. Eventually the varnish will wear off, but by then the fluoride will be absorbed.
  • Avoid certain foods. In order to get the best possible results from your fluoride varnish treatment, dentists recommend you avoid crunchy, hard or chewy foods for the remainder of the day after your appointment. These types of foods have been known to cause the varnish to scrape off. 
  • Only consume certain foods and drinks. While you’re waiting for the fluoride varnish to absorb, it’s a good idea to consume only cold, room temperature or warm food and drinks. Your dentist will likely instruct you to refrain from hot food and drinks, as this may cause some of the varnish to come off before it has had a chance to absorb. 

If you follow these recommendations and any other advice from your dentist, you’ll be sure to get the full benefits of the fluoride varnish treatment. 

Are there any side effects to fluoride varnish?

Can you expect to encounter any side effects from the fluoride varnish?

illustration of a tooth holding a fluoride shield to fight against bacteria
Fluoride varnish can work like a protective seal around your tooth enamel. https://www.brushfloss.com/patient-education/not-all-fluoride-is-created-equal/

As we’ve discussed, fluoride varnish has many benefits both for children and adults. These treatments are great for anyone who needs a little extra protection for their tooth enamel, and who wants to decrease the risk of tooth decay and cavities. However, are there any side effects from undergoing fluoride varnish treatments?

Fluoride varnish is safe and effective, and recommended by many medical associations. However, some people may experience side effects such as:

  • Mouth sores
  • Allergic rashes
  • Nausea

One issue that can develop from too much fluoride is fluorosis. This can manifest in children as white spots on the teeth. This only occurs when too much fluoride has been ingested. This is why it is very important to monitor the brushing behavior of your child, to ensure they are properly spitting out the toothpaste. If you (or your child) are taking fluoride drops or tablets, make sure you also mention this to your dentist.

The risk of fluorosis only occurs when the fluoride consumed is in very high doses. The amount of fluoride you get with fluoride varnish is very low, and is fine to include along with your regular fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated drinking water.

Although some sources claim that fluoride is cause for concern, there are no medical studies to correlate correct doses of fluoride with detrimental consequences. As long as you’re getting your fluoride varnish treatments from a dental professional, you will be getting the correct amount of fluoride you need to protect your teeth. 

Fluoride varnish, is it for you?

Fluoride varnish treatments are a good idea for both children and adults alike who need extra help strengthening their tooth enamel to prevent tooth decay. It is a long-lasting way to ensure your teeth are protected from bacteria that can cause decay and gum disease. If you’re concerned that your teeth are susceptible to these issues consider speaking to your dentist about fluoride varnish.

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