Inconclusive evidence on chlorhexidine varnish for preventing caries in children and adolescents

Photograph of carious teeth

A new systematic review reports inconclusive evidence on chlorhexidine varnish for preventing caries in children and adolescents.

The reviewers set out to establish its effectiveness compared with placebo or no treatment.  A secondary aim was to summarise the evidence of the effectiveness of chlorhexidine varnish compared to fluoride varnish.

The authors searched Medline, Embase and the Cochrane Library in March 2010 looking for randomised controlled trials comparing chlorhexidine with placebo or no treatment.

Only twelve trials were found that met the inclusion criteria.  They were highly heterogenous, using different baseline population, different preparations and co-interventions and different outcomes.

The findings were also heterogenous. Some studies found no benefit, whilst two found a benefit compared with no intervention.  Therefore, the reviewers concluded:

Further well-conducted randomised trials are required before chlorhexidine varnish can be recommended for caries prevention.

James P, Parnell C, Whelton H. The caries-preventive effect of chlorhexidine varnish in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Caries Res. 2010;44(4):333-40. Epub 2010 Jul 7.

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Douglas Badenoch

I am an information scientist with an interest in making knowledge from systematic research more accessible to people who need it. This means you. I've been attempting this in the area of Evidence-Based Health Care since 1995. So far the results have been mixed. For some reason we expected busy clinicians to search databases and appraise papers instead of seeing patients. We also expected publishers to make the research freely available to the people who paid for it.. Ha! Hence The National Elf service.

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