In an article published online by the New York Times, a group of dentists says that an infection caused by a bacterium found in certain toothpastes could lead to a rare condition called brittle teeth.
In some cases, the infection can cause the teeth to collapse, the researchers say.
“Bruising is the most common cause of decay,” Dr. David G. Sauer, a professor of preventive dentistry at New York University, told the Times.
“It’s the leading cause of tooth loss in children and adolescents.”
In the United States, more than half of children have brittle teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And a 2012 study found that people with brittle teeth were more likely to be overweight, to be poor and to be uninsured than those without brittle teeth and healthy people.
“If we’re looking at a population of teeth that are very susceptible to these infections, we could see a lot of damage to those teeth,” Dr Sauer said.
“And that could make a dent in the future of oral health.”
In a video of the New England Journal of Medicine’s editorial board, the group of experts says brittle teeth can be caused by either a bacterial infection or a fungal infection.
The bacteria in a toothpaste is not the only way to cause brittle teeth: A fungal disease called Candida albicans can cause dental damage.
Candida can also cause other health problems, including cancer, according a 2012 report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The team says brittle tooth infections have been linked to a wide range of conditions.
In one case, they said, a woman in her 60s developed the condition after her teeth became infected.
“The person with brittle dental infections was on an oral hygiene regimen that included taking antibiotics and using a mouth rinse to get rid of plaque,” the study authors wrote.
“This person’s plaque levels dropped dramatically.
The plaque was cleared up in her mouth but her teeth remained brittle.”
The authors say it’s not clear whether this woman’s condition could have been prevented by the dental hygiene she was following, but they also say the findings do not prove that oral hygiene alone causes brittle teeth — it is possible, but more research is needed.