Parents infecting children with tooth decay

Bacteria causing teeth cavities can be passed from parent to child, say experts


We all know how bad sugar is for toddlers’ teeth, but research from the US reveals that mums with dodgy dentals could be just as bad for little teeth as the sweet stuff.


Along with poor diet, slack oral hygiene and genetics, evidence seems to be mounting that oral decay is also an infectious disease.

Numerous studies have now shown that cavity-causing bacteria can be passed from caregivers (usually mums) who have serious, untreated oral decay, to little ones whose immune systems are not yet fully developed. 

The under 2s seem to be particularly susceptible to the big, bad beast of the tooth-rotting bacteria streptococcus mutans. “The child initially has the mother’s immunity, and then, as that wears off, there’s this window of infectivity where the child does not have that resistance until they start building their own, and they’re particularly susceptible then,” says Dr Paul Reggiardo, a US paediatric dentist.

No sweets today

Of course, sweet foods and drinks are still a no no, as excessive sugar in the diet fuels even more bacterial growth and if the bacteria’s not brushed off the teeth, it builds up creating acids that eat into tooth enamel.

More recently, studies, including a 2006 report in the journal Pediatric Dentistry, have shown that the bacteria can also be passed among siblings and school chums. So if you find you’ve enrolled your precious one into a nursery full of children with black teeth, you may want to move to another area.

3 ways to protect your nippers’ gnashers

  • Make sure your own dental hygiene is tip top, sort out any tooth decay, brush regularly and use an anti-bacterial mouthwash, and keep an eye on the whole family’s and any other caregivers, too
  • Once your tots’ teeth have come through head to the dentist for a check-up and keep up those visits. Remember kids get free NHS dentistry up to 18 years of age (and for longer if they stay in full-time education).
  • Introduce your tot to the routine of twice daily tooth-brushing, with extra brushing after a particularly heavy sugar blow-out

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