“Tooth decay is contagious from parents to children,” LA Times, July 1, 2011.
CAVITY CAUSING BACTERIA & BABY
Tooth decay is contagious? Yes, contagious from parents to infants and from siblings to infants. This concept was explained in an article featured in last July’s Los Angeles Times special section devoted to dental care for infants and children. The article suggests that cavities are more complex than previously understood. In addition to the known factors contributing to tooth decay, including sugar and genetics, the article suggests that cavities are also an infectious disease.
The bacteria contributing to the formation of cavities, Streptococcus mutans, is a normal part of the flora of the mouth. When infants and children get an overwhelming quantity of these bacteria before their immune systems are able to fend them off, the bacteria colonize more effectively. This puts the infant at a higher risk for cavities. In recent years numerous studies have found that this cavity-causing bacteria can be transmitted from primary caregiver (i.e., mother) to infant, known “vertical transmission”, and from siblings to infant which is “horizontal transmission.”
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
When a baby is born, she has her mother’s immune system. Once this wears off the baby is vulnerable as she develops her own. This time frame between losing the mother’s immunity and developing her own is referred to as the “window of infectivity,” in the LA times article. This is when baby is most susceptible to the bacteria since she is not yet able to counterbalance the presence of these bacteria colonies. To learn how babies develop a strong immune system, please read “Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends,” by Mary Ruebush.
PROMOTE HEALTY TEETH FOR BABY
Promote healthy teeth for baby by first taking care of your own dental decay or periodontal problems you may have. By getting rid of your own decay you will be less likely to pass it on to baby. Pediatric dentists and obstetricians are educating parents about how their baby’s oral health begins with their own.
Tips for an expectant or new mother to best promote healthy teeth for baby:
- Keep her (the mother’s) own teeth healthy
- Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash (such as Peridex)
- Do not share spoons with baby