Therapy Using Sodium Fluoride Strengthens Bones, Doctor Says

From Times Wire Services

An experimental treatment that promotes bone growth appears to strengthen the backbones of women who have suffered spinal fractures due to osteoporosis, researchers reported Thursday.

The treatment involves giving patients a slow-release form of sodium fluoride--the compound dentists use to fight tooth decay--and calcium supplements, said Dr. Charles Y. C. Pak, chief of mineral metabolism at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. His findings are being published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The results indicate that “intermittent sodium fluoride therapy is safe and produces objective and clinical improvement in patients with osteoporosis,” according to the report.

Spinal osteoporosis is a condition of progressive bone loss that affects 5 million Americans--primarily older women. The most severely afflicted are at greatly increased risk for spinal fractures and hip fractures; some are confined to wheelchairs or can only walk with assistance.


“The treatment is intended to make the existing bone stronger but it cannot correct already fractured bone,” Pak said at a news conference. “The hope is that it will make the remaining bone strong enough so it could withstand further fractures.”

The treatment attempts to reverse the loss of so-called spongy bone that makes up the vertebrae of the spinal column. Pak said he does not think the fluoride therapy will be of major value in patients with fractures of the hip or other long bones since they contain very little spongy material.

Pak explained that other commonly used osteoporosis treatments, such as estrogens and calcium supplements, were useful in preventing the development of bone loss if they were begun during the early phase of menopause. But they are of limited value for individuals who have already sustained substantial bone loss.

Pak’s research team measured the effects of the new therapy on 38 post-menopausal women with osteoporosis, and six men; the mean duration of treatment was about three years.

“We have seen an average of 3% to 6% a year increase in (spinal) bone and a continued increase every year,” he said. The treatment also appeared to decrease the frequency of spinal fractures.