Fluoride Action Network



  • Fluorocarbon “huffing” is an under-appreciated cause of skeletal fluorosis (SF)
  • We present a SF case with hyperparathyroidism, osteosclerosis, and osteomalacia
  • SF may go undetected due to variation in symptoms, radiology, and biochemistry
  • Dietary calcium, prior bone health, and skeletal F exposure influence SF features
  • SF is common in endemic areas. We review unusual, non-endemic causes of SF

Skeletal fluorosis (SF) is endemic primarily in regions with fluoride (F)-contaminated well water, but can reflect other types of chronic F exposure. Calcium (Ca) and vitamin D (D) deficiency can exacerbate SF. A 51-year-old man with years of musculoskeletal pain and opiate use was hypocalcemic with secondary hyperparathyroidism upon manifesting recurrent long bone fractures. He smoked cigarettes, drank large amounts of cola beverage, and consumed little dietary Ca. Then, after 5 months of Ca and D3 supplementation, serum 25(OH)D was 21 ng/mL (Nl, 30-100), corrected serum Ca had normalized from 7.8 to 9.4 mg/dL (Nl, 8.5-10.1), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) had decreased from 1080 to 539 U/L (Nl, 46-116), yet parathyroid hormone (PTH) had increased from 133 to 327 pg/mL (Nl, 8.7-77.1). Radiographs revealed generalized osteosclerosis and a cystic lesion in the proximal femur. DXA BMD Z-scores were +7.4 and +0.4 at the lumbar spine and “1/3” radius, respectively. Bone scintigraphy showed increased uptake in two ribs, periarticular areas, and proximal left femur at the site of a subsequent atraumatic fracture. Elevated serum collagen type I C-telopeptide 2513 pg/mL (Nl, 87-345) and osteocalcin >300 ng/mL (Nl, 9-38) indicated rapid bone turnover. Negative studies included hepatitis C Ab, prostate-specific antigen, serum and urine electrophoresis, and Ion Torrent mutation analysis for dense or high-turnover skeletal diseases. After discovering markedly elevated F concentrations in his plasma [4.84 mg/L (Nl, 0.02-0.08)] and spot urine [42.6 mg/L (Nl, 0.2-3.2)], a two-year history emerged of “huffing” computer cleaner containing difluoroethane. Non-decalcified histology of a subsequent right femur fracture showed increased osteoblasts and osteoclasts and excessive osteoid. A 24-hour urine collection contained 27 mg/L F (Nl, 0.2-3.2) and < 2 mg/dL Ca. Then, 19 months after “huffing” cessation and improved Ca and D3 intake, yet with persisting bone pain, serum PTH was normal (52 pg/mL) and serum ALP and urine F had decreased to 248 U/L and 3.3 mg/L, respectively. Our experience combined with 15 publications in PubMed concerning unusual causes of non-endemic SF where the F source became known (19 cases in all) revealed: 11 instances from high consumption of black tea and/or F-containing toothpaste, 1 due to geophagia of F-rich soil, and 7 due to “recreational” inhalation of F-containing vapors. Circulating PTH measured in 14 was substantially elevated in 2 (including ours) and mildly increased in 2. The severity of SF in the cases reviewed seemed to reflect cumulative F exposure, renal function, and Ca and D status. Several factors appeared to influence our patient’s skeletal disease: i) direct anabolic effects of toxic amounts of F on his skeleton, ii) secondary hyperparathyroidism from degradation-resistant fluorapatite bone crystals and low dietary Ca, and iii) impaired mineralization of excessive osteoid due to hypocalcemia.


atypical femoral fracture
bone pain
bone scan
elevated bone mass
fluorocarbon inhalation
hip fracture
hyperplastic callus
hypertrophic callus
tea consumption