Keep it clean, and don’t forget the fluoride!

Did you know that cavities are contagious? Yes, that’s right. Cavities are contagious, especially in young children.

Surprised? I was too when I found that out. There are bacteria (called mutans streptococcus) in our mouths that can cause cavities. That bacteria that can be passed from one person or another, especially from parents to young children. That’s why children can get cavities at a very young age.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works. This bacteria feeds on the sugar in your mouth, and that creates an acid that eats away at your teeth.  If the acid isn’t washed away, the acid will eventually cause cavities.

Some people have more of this bacteria than other people do. So parents don’t really have “soft teeth” that they pass on to their children. They actually pass on the bacteria from their mouths to their children’s mouths by sharing forks and spoons, sharing toothbrushes, and even by kissing!

It’s possible to stop sharing that contagious bacteria! Here are 5 ways:

  • Take care of your own oral health. If you brush and floss regularly, you can limit the number of bacteria in your own mouth, and this can help prevent the spread of the bacteria to your children.
  • Don’t share eating utensils. If you have young children, you probably share food with them from your plate using your spoon or fork. Not sharing forks and spooks can help stop the bacteria flowing from your mouth to your child’s. (The same is true for toothbrushes – everyone in the family should have their own toothbrush.)
  • Limit sugary drinks and food. The reason to avoid foods like cookies, candy, soda, and juice is so that the bacteria don’t have anything to eat. That limits the amount of acid in our mouths that can cause cavities.
  • Fluoride in toothpaste and water is a proven way to strengthen teeth for people of all ages. Fluoride helps our teeth resist the acid “attack” caused by the bacteria. Our teeth benefit throughout our lives from being continuously “bathed” in fluoride. (Fluoride occurs naturally in all water, including well water. Cities and towns adjust the level to the right amount to prevent tooth decay. If you have well water, talk to your doctor or dentist about having the level of fluoride checked to be sure you are getting the right amount.)
  • Stay informed. Learn more about children’s oral health from organizations like the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! Why not help your children get off to a good start so they have a healthy smile and keep their teeth for a lifetime?

Alison Webb

About Alison Webb

Alison Webb is a public health consultant with over 20 years experience in community outreach, grassroots organizing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based programs, and advocating for healthy policies at the Maine State Legislature. Alison is especially interested in what science tells us about promoting health and wellness and how we can apply that to live well in Maine. The blog describes recent public health research and give readers insights into how to use that knowledge to lead healthy lives.