Pop quiz. What causes cavities?
Bet you said sugar. Wrong! Cavities are actually caused by bacteria that subsist on the food particles left in your mouth. The acids produced by this bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, are what eats away at your teeth causing dental caries, or cavities.
Children and Cavities
Dental caries are the single most common chronic childhood disease. These bacteria travel from person to person easily, such as when a mother cleans her child’s pacifier with her own mouth.
“Particularly, the easiest way to catch a cavity is when a mother is feeding a child,” says Dr. Irwin Smigel. The mother will taste the food to check the temperature and then continue feeding the child. “Immediately, that’s how kids get cavities,” he says.
This is why the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents find a dentist for their child as soon as the first teeth start coming in. Regular visits will inform parents about teething, normal tooth development and milestones.
Infants and children are especially vulnerable to the bacteria. According to a study conducted at the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry in Australia, cavity-causing bacteria was discovered in the mouths of 30% of 3-month-olds, and more than 80% of 24-month-old children with primary teeth.
Child-caregiver sharing of these bacteria appears to be common, but a number of studies have shown that the transmission can also occur between couples as well.
“In one instance, a patient in her 40’s who had never had a cavity suddenly developed two cavities and was starting to get some gum disease,” says Dr. Mitchell, a cosmetic dentist in Chicago. She learned the woman had started dating a man who hadn’t been to a dentist in 18 years and had gum disease.
Understanding the Importance of Dental Health
Many people don’t fully understand the connection between dental and overall health. Poor oral health is a risk factor for many systemic diseases. Your mouth is essentially an open door for microbial infections to enter the bloodstream.
You can reduce the risk with frequent brushing and flossing. Drinking water also promotes saliva production and helps stop dry mouth which can exacerbate the effects of existing diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
If you haven’t been to the dentist in the past 6 months make an appointment with Dr. Matthews now. If you are a parent, making your own oral health a priority can help you children stay healthy as well.