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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2003 Jan;26(5):493-510.

Fluoride and organic weak acids as modulators of microbial physiology.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Center for Oral Biology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY 14642-8672, USA.


Fluoride is widely used as an anticaries agent in drinking water and a variety of other vehicles. This use has resulted in major health benefits. However, there are still open questions regarding the mechanisms of anticaries action and the importance of antimicrobial effects in caries reduction. Fluoride acts in multiple ways to affect the metabolism of cariogenic and other bacteria in the mouth. F(-)/HF can bind directly to many enzymes, for example, heme-containing enzymes or other metalloenzymes, to modulate metabolism. Fluoride is able also to form complexes with metals such as aluminum or beryllium, and the complexes, notably AlF(4)(-) and BeF(3)(-).H(2)O, can mimic phosphate with either positive or negative effects on a variety of enzymes and regulatory phosphatases. The fluoride action that appears to be most important for glycolytic inhibition at low pH in dental plaque bacteria derives from its weak-acid properties (pK(a)=3.15) and the capacity of HF to act as a transmembrane proton conductor. Since many of the actions of fluoride are related to its weak-acid character, it is reasonable to compare fluoride action to those of organic weak acids, including metabolic acids, food preservatives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents and fatty acids, all of which act to de-energize the cell membrane by discharging DeltapH. Moreover, with the realization that the biofilm state is the common lifestyle for most microorganisms in nature, there is need to consider interactions of fluoride and organic weak acids with biofilm communities. Hopefully, this review will stimulate interest in the antimicrobial effects of fluoride or other weak acids and lead to more effective use of the agents for disease control and other applications.

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