Babies Can Catch Cavities from Mom

by Kevin B. Doyle

Babies Can Catch Cavities from MomLike all parents do at some point, Jenny scheduled a first dentist appointment for Curt, her 14-month-old son.

She cleaned Curt's teeth regularly, didn't offer him a bottle at night and fed him foods low in sugar. These have always been on Jenny's checklist.

To her surprise, Jenny was shocked to find out from the dentist that Curt had "baby-bottle mouth" -- four large cavities on smooth surfaces of his front teeth.

With all kinds of questions swirling around Jenny's head, how to prevent cavities in the future was right on top of the list.

Tooth Decay is Contagious

Carefully cleaning those first teeth and focusing on foods low in refined carbohydrates does help keep your baby's mouth and gums healthy. Dental cavities might have another partner in crime, however.

The enamel on teeth is softer during infancy and especially when a tooth is just popping through the gum. This is the time when your baby's teeth are at their most vulnerable. Just like you can share a cold virus, you can also pass the bacteria for tooth decay to your baby.

Tooth decay is a bacterial infection that babies can catch even from their moms. The primary culprit is Streptococcus mutans. It can pass from person to person when you are sharing utensils -- such as feeding your baby with your own fork or spoon; blowing on food to cool; by "cleaning" a pacifier by putting in your mouth first; and even when you kiss that sweet little bundle of joy on the mouth.

How can we avoid these actions when they come to us so naturally? By focusing on these suggestions, you'll help put your child on a path to strong teeth and a beautiful smile!

Keep Your Baby's Teeth Healthy

The DO List

  • Know your baby's risk factors. Teeth that erupt with white, brown or rough enamel are more vulnerable. Cavities occur more often in babies born premature or those that have a low birth weight.
  • Keep the teeth shiny. Brush your toddlers teeth twice daily and offer sips of water after meals to wash food particles away.
  • Breastfeed. Streptococcus mutans thrives in a lower pH environment and human milk doesn't lower the mouth's pH.
  • Offer healthy foods. Focus meals and snacks around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, healthy oils and proteins including dairy.
  • Schedule a first dentist appointment near your baby's first birthday. Your dentist can spot and treat cavities while they're tiny.
  • Improve your own oral health. Schedule regular cleanings. If you do have a Streptococcus mutans infections, your dentist can work out a plan to bring that into check.
  • Chew gum that contains xylitol. Studies indicate that xylitol decreases bacterial levels in your mouth.

The DON'T List

  • Don't share Streptococcus mutans. You can transfer the bacteria when you share food, spoons or kiss your child on the mouth. Mash or grind your baby's food instead of offering food from your plate.
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks or those that stick to your baby's teeth. A constant "bath" of sugary substances increases the risk of cavities.
  • Don't smoke. Parents who smoke increase the chance of having a high quantity of the bacteria Streptococcus mutans and are more likely to transfer the bacteria to their children.

Being healthy doesn't have to be scary or a chore. Like any other routine, work it into your own routine bit by bit. What's worked for your family?

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