Antimicrobial effects of fluoride in vivo remain contentious. Previous studies suggested that 1 mM NaF reduced acid production from glucose, and prevented the enrichment of bacteria associated with caries in a chemostat model. The present study examines the effects of a lower fluoride concentration (0.53 mM, 10 ppm NaF) in both biofilm and planktonic microbial communities. Nine oral species were grown at pH 7.0 and pulsed on 10 successive days with glucose; bacterial metabolism was allowed to reduce the pH for 6 h before being returned to neutrality, either in the presence or absence of NaF. In addition, 10-day-old mixed culture biofilms were overlaid with glucose, with or without NaF, and the pH change followed by microelectrode. After 10 days, chemostat pH dropped to ca. pH 4.5 following glucose pulses, and the community was dominated by Streptococcus mutans (rising from 4 to 23% of total CFU) and Veillonella dispar (16 to 73%). In comparison, after 10 days pulsing with glucose + fluoride, the final pH was significantly higher (ca. pH 4.9) (paired t test, p < 0.0001). The culture was predominated by V. dispar (70%) and Actinomyces naeslundii (13%), whereas S. mutans proportions were significantly lower (t test, p = 0.04), remaining <3% of the total flora, compared to the culture without fluoride. Biofilm pH fell to only pH 5.55 1 h after glucose/fluoride overlay, compared to 4.55 with glucose alone (paired t test, p < 0.000001). Analysis of the data suggests that fluoride exerts dual antimicrobial modes of action. Fluoride prevents enrichment of S. mutans by inhibiting critical metabolic processes (direct effect) and, in an inter-related way, by reducing environmental acidification (indirect effect) in biofilms.

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