Are Cavities Contagious?
Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a girl friend of mine - we talked about the proper way to prepare a baby for toothbrushes.
After a bit of conversation, we both agreed that the secret to transitioning a toddler to toothbrushes without much fuss is to wipe down the gums with a washcloth nightly even before the little toofers pop through... anyway, all our talk about baby teeth care reminded her of a documentary she watched in which they explored the realm of cavities being contagious.
"What?" I said - I'd never heard of that.
She said, "Yeah, I know. Supposedly cavities are contagious through things like kissing, but they're mostly spread from mother to baby through sharing spoons or cleaning off binkies with your own mouth."
I couldn't believe it.
I kept thinking of giving Jude cavities throughout my day every time I went to spit-wash his dropped binky or test food during mealtime...
The possibility of giving Bumpkin cavities from my dirty mouth creeped me out so much that I did some scholarly digging to ease my mind. I thought I'd find something saying it was all hogwash...
Here's what I found:
Cavities are caused by one of two types of bacteria - Streptococcus mutans or Streptococcus sobrinus. These bacteria feed on the sugary substances left on our teeth from the foods we eat (especially sticky candies) and multiply like crazy in our mouths throughout the day.
Bacteria are microscopic bugs - and when we kiss or share utensils or whatever, we can easily transfer those bugs from one mouth to another.
(I always had a hunch there was good reason why sharing things while eating creeped me out - so why had it never creeped me out to clean my baby's things with my own mouth?)
In 2007, Queensland School of Dentistry based in Australia conducted a study to test the correlation between cavities and mommies swapping spit with babies. The researchers discovered that of the moms who regularly used their mouths to wash off binkies, kiss their babies on the mouth before brushing their teeth in the morning, or test the heat of food on a spoon before feeding their babies, 30% of 3-month-olds had cavity-causing bacteria living in their mouths, while a staggering 80% of 24-month-olds had the bacteria living on their baby teeth (although I wonder how much of that percentage of 24-month-olds' cavity problems are from improper brushing more than anything else...)
The study also found that there is a correlation between women who've never had cavities in their lives who, shortly after entering into a relationship with a partner that had a history of cavities or gum disease, suddenly got their first cavity.
(Maybe that's why some people are subconsciously attracted to a healthy-looking set of teeth in a partner...)
Of course, other factors can also play into your baby developing cavities, like sugary coatings left behind by juice or milk, or not properly wiping or brushing teeth at least once a day - but the correlation between mama's mouth and baby's, researchers argue, is much larger than other factors.
Sure does make you think twice about morning kisses and cleaning binkies with your mouth, huh?
Don't fret too much - there's things you can do to prevent spreading cavity-producing bacteria to your little bumpkin:
- Start wiping down gums with a wet washcloth as early as you can.
- Test food temperatures with your finger rather than licking the spoon.
- Avoid licking binkies whenever possible.
- Probably the most important thing of all - brush your own teeth at least twice a day.
I'm interested to know if the threat of cavities can extend past the primary teeth to the adult teeth... as it is, I think part of me isn't too worried because baby teeth fall out anyway - what do you think?
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