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Abstract

Sodium fluoride treatment of osteoporosis is known to stimulate bone formation and to increase bone mass, but recent clinical trials failed to prove its antifracture effectiveness. The formation of bone with abnormal structure and, therefore, increased fragility is discussed as a possible explanation. Until now, however, exact information on the mineral structure of osteoporotic bone after fluoride treatment has been lacking. Bone biopsies were taken from three patients with postmenopausal osteoporosis before and after fluoride treatment (60 mg NaF/day for 1-2 years), from one patient with iatrogenic fluorosis, as well as from three normal controls. The mineral in these samples was investigated by a combination of backscattered electron imaging and small-angle x-ray scattering. Depending on the total dose of fluoride, an increasing amount of new bone is laid down on the surface of preexisting trabeculae. Its mineral structure is identical to that of heavy fluorosis and is characterized by the presence of additional large crystals, presumably located outside the collagen fibrils. These large crystals, which are not present in the controls or in osteoporotic bone before fluoride treatment, contribute to increase the mineral density without significantly improving the biomechanical properties of the bone. The possible success of fluoride treatment depends not only on the amount of newly formed bone but also on the rate of bone turnover. Indeed, as soon as significant amounts of fluoride are present, bone turnover leads to the replacement of old (normal) bone by new (pathologically mineralized) bone. In particular, in the case of high turnover rates we expect fluoride therapy even to lead to a deterioration in the overall mechanical stability of the skeleton.