There is evidence from two Cochrane reviews published in 2013 that both fissure sealants (Ahovuo-Saloranta et al) and fluoride varnish (Marinho et al ) prevent caries in occlusal surfaces. So having a understanding the the comparative effectiveness of these two widely used interventions would be helpful.
The aim of this Cochrane review was to evaluate the relative effectiveness of fissure sealants compared with fluoride varnishes, or fissure sealants together with fluoride varnishes compared with fluoride varnishes alone, for preventing dental caries in the occlusal surfaces of permanent teeth of children and adolescents.
Searches were conducted in the Cochrane Oral Health Group Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Medline, Embase, the US National Institutes of Health Trials Register and the World Health Organization (WHO) Clinical Trials Registry Platform without restrictions on language or date. Randomised controlled trials with at least 12 months of follow-up comparing fissure sealants, or fissure sealants together with fluoride varnishes, versus fluoride varnishes for preventing caries in the occlusal surfaces of permanent premolar or molar teeth were considered. Study screening, data abstraction and risk of bias assessment was carried out independently by two reviewers with overall quality of evidence being assessed using GRADE methodology. Standard Cochrane approaches were used for data analysis.
- 8 RCTs involving a total of 1747 children aged 5-10 years of age were included
- 3 studies compared resin-based fissure sealant versus fluoride varnish. Results from follow up after two years were combined from 2 studies (358 children). Sealants prevented more caries, pooled odds ratio (OR) = 0.69 (95%CI; 0.50 to 0.94)
- One trial with follow up at 4 and 9 years found that the caries-preventive benefit for sealants was maintained with 26% of sealed teeth and 55.8% of varnished teeth having developed caries at nine years.
- Evidence for glass-ionomer sealants was of low quality.
- One split-mouth trial analysing 92 children at two-year follow-up found a significant difference in favour of resin-based fissure sealant together with fluoride varnish compared with fluoride varnish only (OR 0.30, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.55). The evidence was assessed as low quality.
- 3 studies assessed but did not report any adverse effects
The authors concluded:
Currently, scarce and clinically diverse data are available on the comparison of sealants and fluoride varnish applications; therefore it is not possible to draw clear conclusions about possible differences in effectiveness for preventing or controlling dental caries on occlusal surfaces of permanent molars. The conclusions of this updated review remain the same as those of the last update (in 2010). We found some low-quality evidence suggesting the superiority of resin-based fissure sealants over fluoride varnish applications for preventing occlusal caries in permanent molars, and other low-quality evidence for benefits of resin-based sealant and fluoride varnish over fluoride varnish alone. Regarding glass ionomer sealant versus fluoride varnish comparisons, we assessed the quality of the evidence as very low and could draw no conclusions.
As noted above there are Cochrane reviews that provide evidence for the effectiveness of both the use of fissure sealants and fluoride varnish for caries prevention. Caries prevention programmes at population level have tended to use either one or other approach. Owing to the additional technique sensitivity and workforce consideration for sealant programmes, varnishing programmes are often preferred. As the individual Cochrane reviews suggest greater benefit from sealants over fluoride varnish seeing a direct comparison of the two interventions is helpful. The results of the review tend to support the findings from the individual reviews that the sealants are more effective. However as highlighted by the authors the quality of the available evidence is low so further well conducted high quality studies are needed.
Ahovuo-Saloranta A, Forss H, Hiiri A, Nordblad A, Mäkelä M. Pit and fissure sealants versus fluoride varnishes for preventing dental decay in the permanent teeth of children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003067. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003067.pub4.
Ahovuo-Saloranta A, Forss H, Walsh T, Hiiri A, Nordblad A, Mäkelä M, Worthington HV. Sealants for preventing dental decay in the permanent teeth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001830. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001830.pub4.
Marinho VCC, Worthington HV, Walsh T, Clarkson JE. Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD002279. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002279.pub2.