Friday, May 10, 2013

Bacteria in the Mouth are Not Harmless

By John Luther, DDS, Chief Dental Officer, DentaQuest

As a dentist, one of the first things I tell new parents is not to put something that has been in your mouth into your baby’s mouth.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard about a Swedish study, which found that babies whose parents sucked on their pacifier to cleanse it were less likely to get eczema and asthma, two conditions caused by allergic reactions. 

The study concludes that when parents suck their child's pacifier clean, they transfer some of the harmless bacteria in their mouths to their child which makes those types of allergic reactions less likely. 

Despite this study, there is significant other research that shows that not all bacteria in the mouth are harmless. 

Cavities (caries) are the result of a bacterial infection and young children can “catch” the harmful bacteria that causes cavities. While everybody has bacteria in their mouth, it’s important to try to keep these harmful bacteria from our children’s mouths during their first year or two or they become the dominant bacteria and the child could experience a lifetime of tooth decay.

Babies most often get these bacteria from a family member who has the bacteria in his/her mouth. Cavity-causing bacteria in the adult’s mouth can be transferred easily to a child’s mouth through something as harmless as testing food to be sure it isn’t too hot, sharing a spoon of ice cream, “cleaning” the pacifier that fell on the floor in your mouth, biting off a piece of apple to share with a child, even kissing. If cavity causing bacteria are transferred to the child too early, they can be dominant for life.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. It is five times more common than asthma. Untreated, tooth decay can have serious, negative effects on a child’s physical and educational development. Mouth pain makes it difficult to eat a healthy diet, to learn to speak properly, and to concentrate in school. Untreated tooth decay in baby teeth can damage a child’s permanent teeth. 

We need to remember there are a lot of studies out there. Occasionally doing something helpful in one area can cause harm in another. Early tooth decay can quickly put kids at a lifelong disadvantage. Taking care to reduce the risk of transmitting cavity-causing bacteria to babies and toddlers will better position them to fight off tooth decay as they grow.