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Are Cavities Contagious?

We all dread cold and flu season, when every cough or sneeze from a neighbor could spell disaster for not only ourselves, but also the whole family. But who would have thought that sharing food and drinks or swapping spit in a kiss would also leave us more at risk for cavities?  

Kids Most at Risk 

There is a sharp divide among beliefs about kissing children on the lips. Some parents are firm believers in this outward expression of love, while others are adamantly against it. In recent months, more research, along with heartbreaking stories, have come to light about the dangers of kissing babies in particular on the lips due to the herpes virus.

Although not as concerning as the herpes virus, research from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry shows that cavities are actually contagious, as well, and the bacteria that produces them can be passed from mother to child from kisses, shared spoons and even the popular, but controversial, cleaning of baby's pacifier with a swift pass through mom's mouth. Although adults can be at risk for this transfer of bacteria, infants and children are the most at risk.

Preventing Cavities in Children

Protecting children from any harm or pain is always at the forefront of any parent's mind. Cavities, also known as dental caries, are actually the most common chronic childhood disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In fact, cavities are five times more common than asthma.

"The obvious answer to preventing cavities is to maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine," said Dr. David Buck, DDS, of Balance Epigenetic Orthodontics in Lynnwood, Washington.

"When it comes to infants and toddlers, you may think the idea of brushing doesn’t help because they’re too young. However, as soon as teeth begin to break through the gums, you should begin helping kids brush their teeth with a toothpaste that’s safe for their age. And before their teeth come in, wiping down the gums after meals can help prevent decay, as well."

Other ways the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests to help keep infants and toddlers cavity-free include:

  • Avoid putting infants and toddlers to sleep with bottles
  • Encourage the transition from bottle to cup as soon as possible
  • Only put water in cups; juice should be consumed in one sitting if necessary, not sipped throughout the day
  • Visit the dentist by your child’s first birthday, or as soon as teeth begin to appear

Preventing Cavities in Adults 

When it comes to adults, a strong oral hygiene routine just makes sense. There are also less obvious ways to help prevent cavities, Buck said.

"Visiting the dentist twice a year can seem like a chore to many adults, but the bottom line is, if you wait a year between visits, spots that you don’t realize you are missing spend all that time decaying under bacteria that has become hardened plaque - plaque that can’t be removed without special tools," he said.

In addition to oral care both at home and at the dentist, Buck recommends the following to help prevent cavities in adults:

  • Rinse out the mouth after eating or drinking sugary or acidic foods and beverages.
  • Drink tap water instead of bottled water as the added fluoride can play a major role in preventing the development of cavities.
  • Eat a balanced diet low in sugar and carbohydrates.
  • Floss! Even though it may seem like flossing isn’t a big deal, when food particles become stuck between teeth, that trapped bacteria can decay the tooth from the sides.
  • If you must drink coffee, soda, juice or sports drinks, consume them in one sitting instead of sipping on them all day. This gives your teeth time to recover from the acid attack that ensues.
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