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Cavities are Contagious

June 9, 2013


Parents lead the way when it comes to good toothbrush and flossing habits.

Ariane Terlet

Chief Dental Officer

La Clinica Dental Services

Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease—more than asthma, obesity or the common cold, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

The cause of tooth decay is called Caries. Children are not born with the Caries bacteria. It passes from person to person through the fluids in the mouth.

The germs in our mouth feed on the food sugars we eat to create bacteria. This bacterium breaks down the sugars and produces acids. These cause mineral loss in teeth that turn into the bio-film that coats your teeth.

Bio-film is soft and easily removed with the use of a toothbrush. When you brush your teeth, you remove the soft bio-film. If you don’t brush, the bio-film hardens and cavities are more likely to form.

“Keep your mouth as clean as possible,” said Ariane Terlet, DDS, chief dental officer of the La Clinica Dental program. “In general the idea of not drinking out of someone else’s cup is important. As a parent, you can transmit the bacteria that produce decay to your children. You do not want to share your toothbrush with the kids. If you know that you have active decay in your mouth, you do not want to share a glass with your child or suck on the baby’s pacifier.”

“I’ve seen tartar and cavities in children as young as two years old,” Terlet said.

Sugary liquids—milk, breast milk, formula, fruit juice and other sweet liquids in bottles or sippy cups—kept in the mouth for long periods of time greatly increase the risk of tooth decay. Even healthy snacks like apples, raisins and fruit leathers contain the sugars that can cause decay. Left untreated, dental decay in young children can be extremely painful. The pain can interfere with talking, sleeping, learning and nutrition. Children miss school days and fall behind. Parents miss workdays to care for their children.

“2 minutes 2 times a day” is the message created by the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives and the Advertising Council. They want to remind parents that with regular brushing and flossing, all kids will ideally need is twice-a-year dental visits and fluoride treatment with regular maintenance.

“Parents lead the way when it comes to good toothbrush and flossing habits,” Terlet said. “It is the routine of mechanically brushing and flossing afterwards that makes a huge difference in prevention.”

Children like to copy what you do. If you brush your teeth in the morning in front of them, they will want to do it, too. Creating the routine is even more important than doing it well. Because once you have the routine you can improve on the techniques.

Twice a day parents should brush the children’s teeth to mechanically remove the plaque from the teeth. Start doing this as soon as teeth appear in the child’s mouth. Wipe baby’s gums with a moist cloth. After the first tooth you can gently use a soft baby toothbrush.

If you have dental coverage, enroll your child in your coverage at age 1 because their dental care is covered. Many parents don’t have coverage, but in 2014 more children will have dental insurance under the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama.