The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a mycobacterium found in dental plumbing systems that has infected several children who have visited pediatric clinics in recent days.
In people, especially children, this bacteria can cause serious infections in the lungs, skin, lymph nodes, or blood.
According to the health authorities, it is a non-tuberculous mycobacterium or NTM, which is found naturally in soil and water, but on some occasions the microorganisms can group together and adhere to surfaces.
Dental water lines are at particularly high risk for developing these biofilms, according to the CDC, due to their “long, small-diameter tubes and low flow rates used in dentistry and frequent periods of stagnation.”
How the first outbreaks in children arose
The cluster of suspected NTM infections were identified in March and arose among patients at the same pediatric dental center.
The CDC did not disclose where the facility is located, but the investigation, which is ongoing, has so far revealed that microbial counts in a dental water line at the facility were much higher than the recommended level.
The agency recommends that dental practices regularly treat their water lines with disinfectants and monitor the quality of the water to ensure it meets Environmental Protection Agency safety standards.
If left untreated, dental water can also breed other bacteria, including Legionella.
Previous outbreaks with serious consequences
In 2016, a similar outbreak was linked to a pediatric dental clinic in Orange County, California. There, 71 patients were diagnosed with infections after pulpotomy procedures, which treat decayed baby teeth. The previous year, 24 children contracted NTM infections after receiving dental care at a clinic in Georgia.
The sick children in those two outbreaks were between 4 and 8 years old and developed serious infections, some of which required hospitalization or surgery. Some were left with “permanent tooth loss, hearing loss, facial nerve palsy and incisional fibrosis,” according to the CDC.