by Zoë Gamble

It’s the first day of Chemistry Week! To celebrate, science made simple are looking at ‘Halogens and Health’. To kick off the week, we’re starting with the first halogen, fluorine, and we’ll be moving down the group each day this week.

We’re also going to be taking part in the global experiment, and you can too.

Fluorine is a highly reactive pale yellow gas, it’s the 13th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, and, it will kill anything that breathes it in.


Liquid fluorine. Photo: B. G. Mueller, CC-BY-SA

It is the most reactive, AND the most electromagnetic of all the elements. No other element can displace fluorine from it’s compounds! Basically, if the periodic table had a bully, fluorine would be it. It smells bad too.

The first and lightest of the halogens, fluorine is a non-metal, with an atomic number of 9.


Healthy uses of fluorine

Preventing tooth decay

A small amount of fluorine is contained within our tooth enamel as fluoride, and we need some in our diet to help prevent tooth decay. Without enough fluoride, tooth enamel isn’t so good at withstanding acid attack, making it more likely to be damaged by acidic food and drinks and leaving the tooth vulnerable to decay.  In some areas of the UK, where the natural amount of fluoride in the drinking water is low, the government has added it to the water supply.   In fact, around 5,797,000 people in the UK have their water fluoridated, out of which, 20% get an invisalign done, because the natural levels are well below the optimum for healthy teeth. Fluoride compounds can be manufactured too, and often synthetic fluoride is added to toothpaste.


Fluoride is used in toothpaste. Photo: Thegreenj, CC-BY-SA


Where would we be without fluorine? In a world without non-stick pans! Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the chemical name for the non-stick coating, and Teflon is the best known brand.  It prevents bits of egg getting stuck to your pan because it is super-slippery and the carbon-fluorine bonds in the PTFE are very strong, so it doesn’t tend to react with anything else.  Frying pans and health don’t seem like an obvious combination, but non-stick pans do help us to be a bit more healthy: we don’t need to use as much fat when frying with non-stick, and that’s generally better for our health.  Next time you have a healthy fry-up and avoid burning your food in a non-stick pan, you’ve got fluorine (in part) to thank for it!


If you enjoyed these fantastic fluorine facts, be sure to check out tomorrow’s blog by Rosie Coates – she’ll be delving into the curiosities of chlorine (you really should, we don’t call her Dr Chemistry Coates for nothing!)

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