You might have heard that tooth decay runs in families, but it isn't in our DNA. So how is it shared?
The following explanation might save your children from a lifetime of tooth decay, and provide some insight that may lead to a great conversation starter for your next trip to the dentist.
How do I share cavities with my child?
When a baby is born into the world they are perfect in every way. They are also free of any bacteria, which actually turns out to be quite essential to life. The bacteria that later colonize in baby's gut, mouth, and behind the ears come from the environment around them. Since mom is usually the first caretaker due to the requirement of nutrition from breastfeeding (for many), she is much more likely to be the one to share the most of her spit with baby from kissing, cleaning pacifiers on the go with their mouth, and generally sharing close spaces. This means if she has high levels of cavity-causing bacteria in her mouth, then the colonization of baby's oral environment will also be high in cavity-causing bacteria.
The ratio of "good" bacteria to "bad" bacteria (or those that cause cavities) is established by age 2 years old and can be more of a challenge to change throughout life once established. Even in the absence of tooth decay, the child with a high level of "bad" bacteria will always have a high baseline level which will make it difficult to stave off tooth decay, and it seems as though baby's "bad teeth" were passed on as if in the DNA even though we know the answer is much more complex. In addition, other factors do contribute including family's dietary practices which play a huge role in the risk for tooth decay.
What can you do while you're expecting?
Expectant mothers should receive an oral health screening or be current on her dental checkups prior to expecting (or soon after she finds out she is expecting). Treatment of tooth decay in the mother prior to baby's birth reduces the levels of disease-causing (or "bad") bacteria in mom's mouth. This is so important because tooth decay is a bacterial disease that is shared through saliva. If there is less "bad" bacteria in mom's mouth, there is a higher chance baby will develop a more "healthy" colony of bacteria that can actually help protect against tooth decay in the future. In addition, chewing xylitol gums or mints actually can help reduce
What can you do for your newborn?
In addition to lowering the chances of "bad" bacteria colonizing baby's mouth by limiting your own bacteria, oral care should start early for baby. Start by wiping baby's gum pads daily during bath time with a clean cloth before any teeth erupt into the mouth. This gets baby accustomed to oral cleansing. Once the teeth erupt into the mouth, it is essential to wipe baby's teeth after every meal, carefully removing the plaque layer that forms on the teeth. Mom should also schedule baby's checkup at the pediatric dentist once the first tooth emerges. The early visits are intended to introduce the child to the dental environment and mom can receive essential oral health coaching required to reduce the chance of tooth decay for baby. The pediatric dentist is trained to discuss a variety of topics such as: teething, oral safety concerns, oral hygiene routines, nutritional guidance, and assess the developmental status of baby's oral environment.
One of the most important parts of a baby infant well visit includes the caries risk assessment which measures the child's risk for tooth decay based on a variety of factors. Part of the goal of the assessment is to help parents identify risk factors they can modify at home to reduce the risk of tooth decay. After the first risk assessment, regular checkups are needed to reassess the risk for decay over time. This is because your child will change over time. For instance, some toddlers become picky eaters and perhaps less nutritious meals are provided to maintain proper weight. If your child tends towards a sweeter or a diet higher in carbohydrates, this will raise their risk for tooth decay and other strategies may be needed to manage the change in diet. Understanding the factors that promote tooth decay can also help the dentist establish a plan for cavity prevention that can be developed in cooperation with the family and child.
Dental decay is still the most prevalent chronic childhood infection, which is important to consider as an expectant mother. To establish a cavity-free life for your child, follow these easy steps:
Don't share your cavities! 5 steps for expectant mothers:
1) Establish a dental home prior to pregnancy (or soon thereafter)
2) Optimize your own oral health prior to the birth of your child
3) Learn how to properly care for the oral health of your baby
4) After baby is born, wipe gum pads daily
5) When the first tooth is visible in baby's mouth, start brushing and call for your child's first dental checkup with your pediatric dentist to establish a dental home.
If you are expecting and have not received pre-natal oral health education, please do not hesitate to contact Southwest Kids Dentistry. Dr. Hollen is offering pre-natal consultation free-of-charge since she believes starting early can help establish a lifetime of oral health and wellness. This visit is intended to help expecting parents prepare for the oral health of the unborn child and explain why establishing healthy family habits is key to developing a healthy baby.