Oral health information for health professionals and schools

Fluoride varnish program in remote schools

The School Based Fluoride Varnish Program (SBFVP) is available for implementation in Top End remote schools. The program opens pathways to important early intervention dental treatment for Top End children.

The program aims to improve oral health and increase dental hygiene awareness across school communities, and:

  • Slow or stop the progress of dental decay
  • Detect disease in high-risk children and open pathways to treatment
  • Provide early intervention, reducing emergency dental appointments and prevent hospitalisation
  • Provide a welcoming orientation to the dental clinic
  • Increase oral hygiene awareness in the community.

In the below video Dental Therapist, Jo Bremner and Moulden Park School Principal, Ali Brady share insights about the School Based Fluoride Varnish Program and the success they have seen since the program commenced in November 2018.

Enrol your school in the program

Schools in remote regions can express their interest in participating in the program by contacting oralhealth.THS@nt.gov.au

Participating schools are required to:

  • issue SBFVP consent forms to all existing school students (these remain current from preschool to grade 6)
  • include SBFVP consent form in the new enrolment pack for any new students or any students commencing in the next year
  • send copies of all consents forms to: oralhealth.THS@nt.gov.au with “SBFVP” in the subject line
  • provide updated class lists to Top End Oral Health team prior to each visit
  • plan dates at six monthly intervals for four visits.

The Top End Oral Health team will:

  • collate consent forms
  • enter all children in their class groups into the Titanium client database
  • check when/if child has had Fluoride Varnish applied
  • review medical history.

Treatment process

The Top End Oral Health team will attend the school and negotiate the most suitable method of moving children from their classrooms to the Fluoride Varnish treatment area, and back again.

The program averages 50 children per day so a school population of 250 will take five days.

If a child is unable to cope with dental treatment at the dental clinic, they will be referred to the hospital to have the treatment carried out under general anaesthetic.

About fluoride varnish

Plaque bacteria in the mouth react with sugar to form acids, which strip minerals from the tooth structure. This damage to the tooth is referred to as tooth decay. Tooth decay, if left untreated, will progress, leading to the loss of the tooth.

The application of Fluoride Varnish is recognised as a safe and effective way for slowing and reducing decay and to assist in preventing new cavities. Professionally applied Fluoride Varnish contains fluoride ions suspended in an alcohol and resin base.

Fluoride Varnish sets immediately on contact with saliva and forms a waxy film, which adheres to teeth. This is gradually worn off by chewing or brushing. Fluoride Varnish is well tolerated by children, and is relatively easy to apply.

The recommended frequency of application of fluoride varnish is twice per year, however for individuals at higher risk of dental caries and/or without access to a fluoridated water supply, more frequent applications may be recommended.

While highly effective, Fluoride Varnish is not regarded a replacement for a child’s regular check-ups. Regular dental check-ups are vital for all children.

  • The regular application of Fluoride Varnish will repair early damage.
  • The earlier a tooth is treated the less invasive the dental experience.
  • Children who do have tooth decay may require treatment under general anaesthetic.

Image showing stages of tooth decay

  • White spot stage

The regular application of Fluoride Varnish at this stage (early intervention) will replenish the lost minerals and repair the damage.

  • Enamel and dentine decay

At this stage the tooth will not be painful but does requires clinical treatment. The earlier this damage is identified and treated (early intervention) the less invasive the treatment is and the tooth will be saved.

  • Involvement of the pulp

When tooth decay is left untreated and affects the pulp, toothache occurs. In baby teeth this will necessitate an extraction. Extraction of baby teeth can lead to orthodontic problems in the future. It is also a distressing process for the child and family.

Fluoride Varnish Program background

The program was trialled at Moulden Park Primary School in November 2018. Following its successful implementation, it then commenced in 2019 in eight schools in Darwin, Nhulunbuy and Katherine.

Territory children, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, have some of the worst oral health outcomes in Australia. Data from the most recent National Child Oral Health Study found Territory children were more likely to have tooth decay and this was likely to be of greater severity than children elsewhere in the country.

The uptake of child dental services by disadvantaged groups is low and the oral disease burden high. Disadvantaged groups include:

  • children from low socio-economic areas
  • Aboriginal people.

Contact us

For further information please contact: oralhealth.THS@nt.gov.au

Last updated: 16 December 2020

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