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Drinking water fluoridation and bone.

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Medizinische Universit├Ątsklinik, W├╝rzburg, Germany.


Drinking water fluoridation has an established role in the prevention of dental caries, but may also positively or negatively affect bone. In bone fluoride is incorporated into hydroxylapatite to form the less soluble fluoroapatite. In higher concentrations fluoride stimulates osteoblast activity leading to an increase in cancellous bone mass. As optimal drinking water fluoridation (1 mg/l) is widely used, it is of great interest, whether long-term exposition to artificial water fluoridation has any impact on bone strength, bone mass, and -- most importantly -- fracture rate. Animal studies suggest a biphasic pattern of the effect of drinking water fluoridation on bone strength with a peak strength at a bone fluoride content of 1200 ppm followed by a decline at higher concentrations eventually leading to impaired bone quality. These changes are not paralleled by changes in bone mass suggesting that fluoride concentrations remain below the threshold level required for activation of osteoblast activity. Accordingly, in most epidemiological studies in humans bone mass was not altered by optimal drinking water fluoridation. In contrast, studies on the effect on hip fracture rate gave conflicting results ranging from an increased fracture incidence to no effect, and to a decreased fracture rate. As only ecological studies have been performed, they may be biased by unknown confounding factors -- the so-called ecological fallacy. However, the combined results of these studies indicate that any increase or decrease in fracture rate is likely to be small. It has been calculated that appropriately designed cohort studies to solve the problem require a sample size of >400,000 subjects. Such studies will not be performed in the foreseeable future. Future investigations in humans should, therefore, concentrate on the effect of long-term drinking water fluoridation on bone fluoride content and bone strength.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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