Skip to content

College of Nursing

iCON | Intranet for the College of Nursing
iCON | Intranet
An icon representing iCON, the Intranet for the College of Nursing


Pediatric health starts with the teeth


Spartan Nurse Perspectives

Alexandria Rocha, Lauren Esper (NP students)

Dental caries — more commonly known as cavities — is the leading chronic disease in children in the United States, according to renowned researcher Katrina Davidson at Northwell Health, which is New York state’s largest health care provider.

The highest risk of cavities is in children of low socioeconomic status and minority backgrounds. The risk of untreated cavities includes pain, infection, developmental delays, tooth loss, and potentially surgery under general anesthesia for severe cases. The United States Preventive Services Task Force guidelines recommend that primary care providers apply preventative fluoride varnish to all children under the age of 5.

That said, many young children do not regularly visit the dentist or maintain oral health practices. Alarmingly, in Michigan only 48.1% of children ages 1-5 have received preventative dental care visits in 2020, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Applying fluoride varnish in the primary care setting gives children the opportunity to receive preventative treatment for cavities that may not have been accessible. The reason for applying fluoride varnish within the primary care setting is due to limited access to dental services.

While applying fluoride varnish is an important and necessary step in preventing tooth decay, parents, children, and the general population may have questions about the application and its importance. The process takes less than two minutes and is generally included within a standard child wellness examination. The fluoride application is covered by most insurances, and out-of-pocket costs for uninsured patients is typically less than $20. The taskforce guidelines recommend providers apply the varnish every 3-6 months based on risk. In addition, providers should educate patients and families on the effect of diet and sugary products, oral hygiene practices, risks of cavities, and opportunities for dental care at every visit.

More information on fluoride varnish application can be found at Smiles for Life Oral Health.