The effect of fluoride on the developing tooth

Caries Res. May-Jun 2004;38(3):268-76. doi: 10.1159/000077766.


This review aims to outline the effects of fluoride on the biological processes involved in the formation of tooth tissues, particularly dental enamel. Attention has been focused on mechanisms which, if compromised, could give rise to dental fluorosis. The literature is extensive and often confusing but a much clearer picture is emerging based on recent more detailed knowledge of odontogenesis. Opacity, characteristic of fluorotic enamel, results from incomplete apatite crystal growth. How this occurs is suggested by other changes brought about by fluoride. Matrix proteins, associated with the mineral phase, normally degraded and removed to permit final crystal growth, are to some extent retained in fluorotic tissue. Fluoride and magnesium concentrations increase while carbonate is reduced. Crystal surface morphology at the nano-scale is altered and functional ameloblast morphology at the maturation stage also changes. Fluoride incorporation into enamel apatite produces more stable crystals. Local supersaturation levels with regard to the fluoridated mineral will also be elevated facilitating crystal growth. Such changes in crystal chemistry and morphology, involving stronger ionic and hydrogen bonds, also lead to greater binding of modulating matrix proteins and proteolytic enzymes. This results in reduced degradation and enhanced retention of protein components in mature tissue. This is most likely responsible for porous fluorotic tissue, since matrix protein removal is necessary for unimpaired crystal growth. To resolve the outstanding problems of the role of cell changes and the precise reasons for protein retention more detailed studies will be required of alterations to cell function, effect on specific protein species and the nano-chemistry of the apatite crystal surfaces.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amelogenesis / drug effects*
  • Cariostatic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Cariostatic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Dental Enamel / drug effects
  • Dental Enamel / metabolism
  • Dentin / drug effects
  • Dentin / metabolism
  • Durapatite / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Fluorides / adverse effects*
  • Fluorides / pharmacokinetics
  • Fluorosis, Dental / etiology*
  • Fluorosis, Dental / metabolism
  • Humans


  • Cariostatic Agents
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Durapatite
  • Fluorides