PITTSBURGH, USA: U.S. researchers have found that certain variants of keratin, proteins that are key structural components of hair, also help in the formation of tooth enamel. In a recently published study, they showed that participants with hair disorders due to a specific mutation in the protein had an increased number of cavities.
In order to establish a connection between hair disorders and susceptibility to dental caries, the researchers used genetic and oral examination data from 386 children and 706 adults. For their study, they focused on the protein keratin 75, because mutations in its genes have been linked to certain hair disorders, such as shaving bumps, persistent irritation caused by shaving.
The researchers observed that participants carrying mutations in keratin 75 had an increased number of cavities. In addition, they found that these participants had altered enamel structures and showed a marked reduction in enamel hardness, suggesting that hair keratins stabilize enamel tufts and rod sheaths to support enamel rods during their formation, which is similar to their function in supporting the hair shaft. Thus, they concluded that tufts and rods destabilized by the presence of the mutant protein have a reduced capacity to protect against caries.
These insights may help in the development of new strategies for combating tooth decay, the scientists believe. The disease affects 60–90 percent of schoolchildren and nearly 100 percent of adults worldwide. According to the latest figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 16 percent of children and about 24 percent of adults in the U.S. alone have untreated dental caries.
The study, titled “Hair Keratin Mutations in Tooth Enamel Increase Dental Decay Risk,” was published online on Oct. 27 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It was conducted at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh.