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Bacteria battle against toxic fluoride

Regular use of fluoride-containing toothpaste and mouthwash has long been known to strengthen the enamel on teeth. But new research by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists finds that fluoride also has dramatic effects on bacteria inside the mouth -- including those that form plaque and can cause cavities.

HHMI researcher Ronald Breaker of Yale University has discovered the cellular chain of events that occurs inside a bacterium after it encounters fluoride in its environment. His team's findings reveal that many bacteria try to fend off fluoride – which the organisms treat as a toxic substance – by throwing it out. The presence of such a transport system indicates that fluoride itself has antimicrobial properties, Breaker said. The findings are published online in Science Express on December 22, 2011.

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