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Radioactive Toothpaste
07 September 2015

Radioactive Toothpaste

A radioactive version of the common toothpaste ingredient, sodium fluoride, has been injected into the bloodstreams of patients to detect dangerous plaques inside their arteries. Fluoride makes teeth stronger by binding to calcium compounds in the enamel – a property that also makes it stick to calcium-rich rich plaques in the blood vessels of people suffering from atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Adding a tiny amount of radioactive tracer to sodium fluoride allowed scientists to scan plaques with precision – and identify unstable plaques, which were found to attract the highest concentrations of fluoride. These are particularly dangerous and were surgically removed during clinical trials because pieces can break free and cause strokes or heart attacks. Pictured is a section of excised human carotid artery showing extensive calcification, marked blue and green by the radioactive tracer, at three different depths of scanning.

Written by Mick Warwicker

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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