BACKGROUND: Fluorides are widely used in dental health products and drinking water, due to their beneficial effects in caries-prophylaxis and -treatment. Nevertheless, irritation of the gingiva and oropharyngeal mucosa as well as in gastric mucosa is observed since neither local nor systemic application is restricted to the teeth. These effects may partly be attributed to a known cytotoxicity of fluorides. Whether fluorides also have genotoxic effects on human mucosa or lymphocytes as a possible factor in tumor initiation was investigated in this study. MATERIAL AND METHODS: Human oropharyngeal epithelial cells and peripheral lymphocytes were incubated after single cell preparation with the aminefluoride Olaflur at concentrations of 2 ppm, 21 ppm, 35 ppm, 71 ppm and 213 ppm. The extent of cytotoxicity was investigated using the trypan blue exclusion test. Following incubation, electrophoresis for migration of DNA fragments, fluorescence staining and digital image analysis according to a standard protocol of the single cell microgel electrophoresis assay (Comet assay) followed. DNA damage was characterized using the Olive Tail Moment (OTM). RESULTS: For fluoride concentrations of 2 ppm to 35 ppm, non vital cells of less than 10% could be shown. After incubation with 71 ppm and 213 ppm Olaflur, there were 15% and 43% of damaged cells, respectively. Weak genotoxic effects on mucosal cells as well as on lymphocytes could be demonstrated at all concentrations tested. In fluoride concentrations of 213 ppm genotoxicity increased to max. OTM-levels of 23. CONCLUSIONS: Beside the cytotoxic effect of fluorides, also a minor genotoxic impact on human mucosa and on peripheral lymphocytes could be demonstrated using the Comet assay. Further investigations are warranted to examine fluorides in a model allowing for repeated or long term incubations on structurally intact human mucosa in vitro. Such a model will help to distinguish between DNA damage that may be repaired successfully and other impairments that may show an additive character in repetitive or chronic exposure in vivo.