The aim of this paper was to examine recent evidence for the effect of the antibacterial approach to prevent and control caries with special reference to the use of chlorhexidine (CHX). Existing information from the mid 1990s provided limited evidence for the effectiveness of CHX gels, rinses and toothpaste in preventing caries in permanent teeth of children and adolescents. An updated literature search on CHX intervention in controlled clinical trials from 1995 to May 2003 unveiled 22 studies covering over 4,500 patients with clinical caries as end point. The vast majority (n = 21) were dealing with CHX-containing varnishes. Since the studies exhibited disparities in design, diagnosis and intervention, the findings were subgrouped with respect to caries type and localization. According to the ranking system of the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care, the evidence for an anticaries effect of CHX varnishes was rated as inconclusive for caries-active schoolchildren and adolescents with regular fluoride exposure. Regarding fissure caries, a preventive effect of CHX varnishes was demonstrated in 4 studies out of 5 when compared to no treatment in children with low fluoride exposure. The evidence for arresting root caries in dry-mouth patients and frail elderly subjects was inconclusive. In conclusion, the evidence from the recent literature was inconclusive for the use of CHX varnishes for caries prevention in risk groups.

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