The Role of Fluorine Within the Pharmaceutical Industry

In general, most people associate the ninth element on the periodic table, fluorine, with dentistry. However, this is only one side of this versatile chemical. In its pure form, it is actually a poisonous gas, unfit for consumption by humans. Many derivatives of the element are harmless or even beneficial to the body. In fact, medicines containing fluorine are extremely common.

It is estimated that nearly 20% of all pharmaceuticals contain some sort of fluorine. This is because the chemical is highly versatile. Slight changes in atomic structure can drastically change the nature of this element. For medicines, the intended result of a change in structure is an organofluorine compound. Those who work to develop pharmaceuticals are constantly working to create new varieties of these substances and place them in drugs.

There are a number of common Fluorine-containing compounds that are frequently used in medical technology. Treatments that contain this element are used in dentistry, anesthesiology, hormone therapy, oncology, and psychology.

Sodium Fluoride

Sodium fluoride is made using the byproducts of the synthesis of chemical fertilizers and other products for agriculture. The manufacturing process of these products gives off hydrofluoric acid which is neutralized and becomes NaF. Most uses of this compound involve cleaning or organic synthesis.

The use of sodium fluoride in medicine is mostly in the realm of dentistry. It is found in many tooth pastes and other anti-tooth decay products. At one time, NaF was added to most drinking water in order to improve oral health in the general population. It has generally been replaced by another fluorine compound, in part, because the practice is very controversial.

Sodium fluoride is ideal for oral health purposes because it creates a byproduct called fluoroapatite. This compound is a part of tooth enamel, and, when coupled with the compound’s ability to clean most solid surfaces, helps to maintain healthy teeth.


The general anesthesia used to put patients to sleep during surgery is usually made up of highly flammable gases. Fluorine is so popular in the field of medical science because it can be used in a variety of situations. The properties of this element make it easy to synthesize with other chemicals. It is known for its stability and reactivity. Many of its best attributes can be applied to other substances by joining them together.

Fluorocarbons are particularly stable and have a high polarity. This makes them ideal for use with the volatile chemicals used in anesthesia. They significantly reduce the flammability of the gasses used in the operating room, and therefore, make the process safer.


The products of fluorine are often used to treat clinical depression and are classified as SSRIs. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors change the chemical environment in the brain. Various chemicals released and detected by neurotransmitters send and receive chemical messages that determine mood. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers that evoke a feeling of wellness. Since depression is likely the result of a problem in the detection of serotonin, various drugs are synthesized to keep the chemical in the synapses longer.

Unfortunately, though there is enough evidence of success to continue research in this vein, these drugs are highly controversial. Many charge that researchers are trying to manipulate brain chemistry without fully understanding it. Fluoxetine is part of the compound that made up Prozac, one of the first SSRI drugs. It is approved as an antidepressant by the FDA and still in circulation, but it, as many similar medicines, has been accused of encouraging suicide, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction.

Other Uses

Some antibiotics employ to the fluoro-structures in order to further stabilize the compound. Fluoroquinolones are a large group of broad-spectrum antibiotics. They are particularly affective in killing bacteria. Some fluorides are even used as cutting edge treatments for HIV.

There are a slew of other specialty drugs that contain some variation of fluorine. It is notably part of some antifungal drugs and steroids. Using fluoride has been a trend in modern medical research for some time, but new uses for the element appear everyday.

Importance of Fluorine

The fact that a derivative of fluorine can be found in one fifth of all pharmaceuticals speaks to its general importance. 67% of Americans ingest sodium chloride everyday in their drinking water. The versatility and stability of these substances also allows them to make medicines in which they are not the active ingredient more effective.

As more research is done in the medical field, this chemical continues to prove useful to fight illness. The world of pharmaceuticals certainly would not be the same without it.