Bacteria Fight Back Against Fluoride

Farmington Hills residents should know that fluoride is currently one of the most effective ways to combat tooth decay. Fluoride makes growing teeth stronger, and binds to enamel, hardening it against acids produced by oral bacteria. Fluoride is also known to be toxic in high concentrations to the bacteria in our mouth, but did you ever realize that those bacteria know how to fight back? A recent study by Yale researchers has determined exactly how this is done, and how it can help us make even better use of fluoride in the battle against cavities.

What is Fluoride?

The 13th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, fluoride is found naturally in high concentrations throughout the United States. Fluoride is commonly used in toothpastes and mouthwashes because of its ability to strengthen enamel and fight off bacteria. The benefits of fluoride were discovered in 1909 when a dentist working in Colorado sought to discover why so many of his patients had brown-stained teeth, but virtually no cavities. Shortly thereafter began a controversial campaign to add fluoride to public drinking water throughout the US. Today 72 percent of the US population consumes publicly fluoridated drinking water.

Bacteria’s Natural Defenses

Predictably, bacteria do not take kindly to being flooded with toxic quantities of fluoride. Sections of bacterial RNA, called riboswitches, are responsible for detecting and activating responses to the presence of fluoride. RNA contains many riboswitches, which allows it to regulate its own activity by sensing and affecting the expressions of certain molecular genes. The existence of these advanced sensors and defense mechanisms suggests that organisms have been battling fluoride toxicity since ancient times.

Turning Bacteria’s Defense System on Itself

Because these particular riboswitches and other proteins are absent in humans, learning to manipulate them in bacteria could decrease resistance to fluoride without harming humans. For example, the team who discovered this riboswitch found another mechanism used by bacteria to flush out fluoride from the cells. By blocking this mechanism, the bacteria’s resistance to fluoride would become far less effective.

Interested in Fluoride Treatments?

Though toxic to bacteria, fluoride in limited quantities is perfectly safe, and is, in fact, beneficial to humans. Meet with Dr. Aziza Askari to evaluate your current degree of oral health, and to determine what form of fluoride treatment is best for you. Schedule an appointment with the team at Comfort Dental Spa by calling (248)474-6434. We happily serve all patients from Livonia, Farmington Hills, Novi, Dearborn, Detroit, and surrounding communities.