Faculty of Medicine

New findings on enamel damage in children

About half of children with celiac disease have problems with enamel damage. UiB researchers have now found that the cause is an immune reaction to one of the most common proteins in cow’s milk.

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Up to a third of Norwegian children have enamel defects.

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Up to a third of Norwegian children have enamel defects. A damaged enamel makes the tooth more porous, and more prone to caries and cavities, and for some, enamel defects lead to major dental health problems. A recent Norwegian study has tried to look at the causes of why so many Norwegian children get enamel defects.

A collaborative study between the University of Bergen, Norway, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, and international partners have now shown that about half of children with celiac disease have enamel damage:

“This is the first time it is shown that enamel damage can be caused by an autoimmune disease, autoimmune amelogenesis imperfect”, explains professor Eystein Husebye at the Department of Clinical Science.

Autoimmune reaction to a common protein in milk

In celiac patients, the research team found a link between autoantibodies to the milk protein kappa-casein and enamel damage:

“It may seem that in the same way as celiac patients react to gluten in the diet and get intestinal damage, they react to kappa-casein in cow’s milk and get tooth damage,” says Husebye.

Enables earlier diagnosis.

The other condition with autoimmune enamel damage that was studied is the very rare and hereditary disease autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type I (APS-I) that affects children. 

It was the widespread enamel damage in this disease that put the research team in Bergen led by Anette Wolff and Eystein Husebye on the idea that autoimmunity was the cause:

“The new findings will help us to diagnose celiac disease at an earlier stage and thus prevent enamel damage”, says Huesbye. It also makes it possible finding a “cure” for these damages in children:

“If possible, removing kappa-casein from the diet can prevent enamel damage. In addition, the findings make it possible to consider whether there are similar mechanisms for enamel damage in other diseases”, says professor Husebye.

Publication: Nature article.