Scientists have yet to fully grasp how fluoride strengthens teeth
and prevents tooth decay, but they might be one step closer to solving the decades-old mystery with a new study.
A recent study German researchers conducted suggests that fluoride reduces bacteria's ability to stick to teeth, thereby making germs easier to wash away with saliva and brushing, MyHealthNewsDaily.com reported.
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Once fluoride bonds with tooth enamel, bacteria cannot cling to teeth as strongly, according to the study's researcher, Karin Jacobs, a physicist at Saarland University in Germany.
In the experiment, fluoride was applied to some tooth imitations, while others received no fluoride.
After being doused with tooth-decay germs and examined under a microscope, the study found that bacteria fused better with specimens that lacked fluoride.
"The bacteria we're studying are likely to be charged negatively," Jacobs told MyHealthNewsDaily.com. "They feel attached to positively charged surfaces."
Jacobs added that when fluoride is applied on tooth enamel, the tooth becomes more negatively-charged and repels germs.
Similar to how Teflon prevents materials from sticking to metal pans, fluoride has the same effect on teeth, the article suggests.
Because a tooth's surface is highly variable, researchers have struggled with creating tooth imitations that permit them to study the effects of fluoride. In their study, Jacobs and her colleagues polished artificial teeth with microscopic grains of diamond to make the surface as uniform and as smooth as possible, MyHealthNewsDaily.com reported.
Another possibility for how fluoride prevents tooth decay is that it might also weaken bacteria to the point that it limits the bacteria's ability to construct biofilms – surface fortresses comprised of groups of microorganisms in which cells adhere to each other.
"Next, we'll look at how fluoride treatment affects the buildup of an initial biofilm," Jacobs added.
In addition to the study's findings, fluoride is already known for its cavity fighting ability, fusing itself with the teeth to create an acid-resistant layer.
Because of its benefits, fluoride is often added to drinking water, toothpastes, and mouthwashes.
Despite its wide use, there are some who oppose fluoride being added to drinking water, contending that water fluoridation is toxic and may cause serious health problems.
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