Cavities are contagious

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DR. JOSEPH D. LIM

DR. JOSEPH D. LIM

Did you know that dental caries or tooth decay is contagious? This may come as a shock to you but researchers said this common problem is also an infectious disease that can be passed on from person to person.

Sugary foods are often portrayed as the bad guys in tooth decay but the real villains are bacteria. Two in particular – Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus – are responsible for bad teeth. These are found on the teeth and gums and feed on food particles in the mouth.

Cavities occur when the acid that these two bacteria produce destroy teeth. The bad news is these harmful bacteria can travel from one person to another by means of kissing and sharing eating utensils. Researchers said the usual victims are couples and infants largely because of their caring mothers.

“A 2007 study conducted at the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry in Australia found that cavity-causing bacteria was found in the mouths of 30 percent of 3-month-old babies and more than 80 percent of 24-month-olds with primary teeth,” according to an article in Time.


“Just as a cold virus can be passed from one person to the next, so can these cavity-causing bacteria. One of the most common is Streptococcus mutans. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to it, and studies have shown that most pick it up from their caregivers,” added The New York Times.

Dr. Margaret Mitchell, a cosmetic dentist in Chicago, said this happens when a concerned mom tastes a baby or child’s food to see if it’s too hot. Unfortunately, that concern easily translates to cavities.

Kissing is another way to transmit bacteria that cause cavities and several studies have shown that this is common in couples. Mitchell narrated that a patient in her 40s who didn’t have cavities suddenly had two and was getting gum disease. She learned that this happened when the patient started dating a man who hadn’t seen a dentist in 18 years and had gum disease.

To prevent catching cavities, follow the golden rules of oral health. Avoid sticky candies, brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, use a mouthwash after eating, drink water often to flush away plaque and bacteria, and floss regularly.

Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the dean of the National University College of Dentistry, president & CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail jdlim2008@gmail.com or text 0917-8591515.

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