Published February 4, 2018
As we are in the middle of particularly bad flu season this year, many people are taking extra precautions to prevent catching the flu. Yet, most people are not aware about catching a cavity. OK, that isn’t the technical term, but the concept is somewhat similar. Tooth decay is a disease – in fact, it is the most common chronic disease among children.
You won’t catch a cavity per say, but it has been shown that cavity causing bacteria are passed from person to person so it is important to understand how this happens in order to take precautions. The bacteria are passed through saliva with the most common methods of transmission being from mother (or other primary caretaker) to child; this is typically from sharing silverware or kisses. Therefore it is critical that new parents be made aware that they are passing along bacteria to their children. This is especially important for caretakers with poor oral health and thus aggressive bacteria. The transmission can happen at any age, but is more critical once the first tooth erupts as there is more dental plaque formation and the bacteria types become more established.
Other methods of transmission include from playmates as children and partners as adults. Kids tend to lick and drool on toys and place their fingers in their mouths often allowing saliva to be passed from child to child playing in close proximity. Kissing among adults is another, but less common method of passing bacteria. Thankfully the types of bacteria are not easily changed in the mouth so it is not as common for new bacteria to become dominant for adults, but has been shown to happen.
So what should you do to protect yourself and those you love? Avoid sharing silverware, drinking from the same containers, taking bites of the same food items, kissing children on the lips and sharing a toothbrush.
As a dentist I often hear people talk about having soft teeth. There are slight variations in the mineral content of teeth, but for the most part the difference is in the type of bacteria, amount of sugars in the diet and oral hygiene that contribute to cavities. Being careful to not transmit bacteria to others through saliva can help that individual have an easier time avoiding tooth decay.
What if it is too late? Don’t beat yourself up if you have been potentially passing bacteria to a child or partner. Remember, bacteria are only one third of the equation for cavities to form. Brushing with a fluoride containing toothpaste at least twice a day and limiting the amount and number of exposures to sugars is also key to decreasing the risk for cavities.
February is Children’s Dental Health month, so if the concept of passing cavity causing bacteria is news to you, be sure to share this knowledge with any parents who may not be aware and teach the children in your life good oral hygiene habits that will stay with them for life. Tooth decay may be the most common chronic disease in children, but it is largely preventable.