Once an agent is topically applied in the oral cavity, the free drug can act at the primary site (i.e., bacteria in the plaque), or it can be partitioned to compartments where the drug binds nonspecifically. These drug reservoirs include the enamel, dentin, and/or cementum of the tooth, the oral mucosa, the organic and inorganic components of plaque, and salivary proteins.

The fraction of the administered dose that is non-specifically bound to oral reservoirs is highly dependent on the drug's concentration and chemical nature and the amount of time it remains at the site. For example, a 1-minute rinse with 0.2% chlorhexidine will result in approximately 30% of the total amount dispensed being retained, whereas a 3-minute rinse with 0.1% sodium fluoride will result in less than 1% of the administered dose being found in the oral cavity after an hour. The ability of oral agents to bind to oral reservoirs nonspecifically and reversibly is an important quality for sustained release of drugs.

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