Dental hygiene and medical students from USD join forces for Fluoride Varnish Project

Dental hygiene and medical students from USD join forces for Fluoride Varnish Project
Professor Bob Nelson and Associate Professor Beverly Kennedy of The University of South Dakota dental hygiene department recently accompanied a group of nine senior dental hygiene students and 14 Sanford School of Medicine first-year students to Sioux Falls for a service-learning experience.�

Students performed fluoride varnish applications on May 2 for 245 Head Start, pre-school and elementary students at Garfield, Robert Frost and Family Immersion Center schools in Sioux Falls. The preliminary scheduling was done with the assistance of Shirley Lund, RN, MSN, health coordinator, Sioux Falls Head Start.�

Dental hygiene students perform this type of preventive program throughout their curriculum, but this was a new joint venture between the two programs. Varnish is painted onto dried teeth with a small brush, providing an easy and effective method to help prevent tooth decay. After application, the students can eat or drink whenever they want. The only restriction is waiting at least six hours before brushing their teeth.�


The advantage of this type of preventive project is that the fluoride can easily be applied in a classroom setting with little disruption to everyday activities. In fact, this was the second application for a majority of the students; the dental hygiene students applied the varnish in November as well.

Along with helping to prevent tooth decay, this project allows the dental hygiene and medical students to check for any obvious dental issues. Any noticeable problems are charted, and the students are then referred to a dentist.

Both Nelson and Kennedy stressed the importance of applying the fluoride varnish for these young students in Title I schools since this population is at high risk for decay. The fluoride concentration in the varnish is very high, yet there is no chance of toxicity as the amount applied is minute; the varnish solidifies as soon as saliva contacts the teeth. Therefore, none of it is swallowed.

"Anything that can be done to prevent cavities should be. We know that the number one reason children visit the school nurse is because of a toothache. We also know cavities can be prevented, and fluoride, more than anything else, is going to help prevent them," said Kennedy.

This was a new experience for the medical students, but they seemed to enjoy it. "My favorite part of the day was when a little girl asked me why my teeth were 'dirty.' I explained that I drank too much coffee and her response was, 'You should brush your teeth every day, just like me.'" said Jenny Tinguely, a medical student from Sioux Falls.�

"This project made many of us medical students realize the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to health care. Applying the varnish would be something pediatricians or family physicians could do during well-child exams very easily. It only takes minutes to apply, and it is now currently covered under Medicaid reimbursement in this state for children under the age of six three times a year," said Carrissa Pietz, a medical student from Lesterville.

Funding for the project was provided by the South Dakota Dental Association's Partners in Prevention Program. Plans are to continue this project as an interdisciplinary activity, with hopes to expand it.

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