Dental fluoride treatments are among the most effective and efficient techniques for hindering tooth decay in children. But despite their proven effectiveness, and despite the fact that such treatments are often covered by insurance, too few children are getting them.
Very few privately insured young children receive recommended dental fluoride treatments at health wellness visits, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open. The study’s analysis of more than 328,000 well-child visits for privately insured 2- to 5-year-olds found that fluoride treatment was done in fewer than 5% of visits between 2016 and 2018.
One common reason that children aren’t getting fluoride treatments is parental refusal. In a survey, nearly 80% of dentists said they believed fluoride refusal was a problem. In one study, refusal of fluoride was found to be correlated with refusal of vaccines, and as many as 51.5% of parents refused topical fluoride treatments.
“Tooth decay is the number one disease of early childhood, and fluoride plays a critical role in strengthening the enamel and preventing cavities,” said Dr. Jessica Buehler, Director of Dental Affairs at Delta Dental. “Unfortunately, in today’s world of information overload and patients getting their news through social media, there are many families that oppose or do not understand the value and importance of fluoride.”
Parental attitudes and beliefs about health are important determinants of fluoride refusal. Most common is the belief that fluoride is unsafe. Such concerns are often spread and amplified through social networks, the media and the internet. Other factors may include religious beliefs, a desire for autonomy and concerns about the true intent of fluoride treatments.
The following clinical strategies can help you improve communication with parents about topical fluoride treatments:
Fluoride varnish is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Task Force and the American Academy of Pediatrics for all infants and children starting at tooth eruption through age five years. All children in this age category should receive fluoride varnish application at least once every six months, according to the recommendation. Most private insurers cover the procedure, and coverage with no cost-share for families is mandatory under the Affordable Care Act.
Most Delta Dental PPO™ and DeltaCare® USA plans cover fluoride treatments for children up to age 12, and many cover such treatments up to age 18, and for adults, as well. The specific codes for fluoride treatments are:
Preventive dental care is important at any age, and we encourage you to give regular fluoride treatments to your pediatric patients. Developing a clinical workflow that includes fluoride application can greatly improve the oral health of children within your practice.