The Dreaded Cavity….Can it Actually be Contagious?!

Everyone knows conditions such as colds, pink eye, and the flu are contagious, but can you catch a cavity?

We now know, that not only is it possible, but it occurs much more frequently than most realize. We’ve known for centuries that sugar is a major component to causing cavities, but it’s actually the bacteria that hang onto teeth and feast on remnants of food from your last meal or snack that have the biggest impact on causing cavities. Acid is then formed and this, in turn, destroys our teeth.

Just as a cold or the flu virus can be passed from person to person, so can these cavity-causing bacteria. The cavity-causing culprit is a bacteria known as Streptococcus mutans. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to it. A 2007 study performed at the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry in Australia revealed that cavity-causing bacteria was found in the mouths of 30% of 3-month-old babies and more than 80% of 24-month-olds.

Studies also show that most infants and children pick up this bacteria from their caregivers! Examples of ways to pass the bacteria are: when a mother tastes a child’s food to make sure it’s not too hot, a caregiver using their own mouth to clean off a pacifier that has dropped, or even sweet kisses!

So what can we do to avoid this? First, I recommend that caregivers keep their teeth in tip-top shape. Caregivers need to make sure they are visiting their dentist regularly (every 6 months) and eliminating any dental decay (cavities) that exist in their mouth.

Next, avoid acts like the one’s mentioned above. I know, kisses are unavoidable (as they should be), so make sure caregivers reduce the amount of bacteria in their mouth in order to reduce the chance of transmission. Caregivers need to ensure they are brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and using antibacterial mouthwash daily. Drinking water throughout the day is also a great help. And of course eating healthy-avoiding lots of sugary, acidic and sticky foods and sodas is imperative.

Finally, I can’t help but mention the benefit of chewing sugar-free gum. Because the bacteria is passed from caregivers to infants and children, caregivers who chew xylitol sugar-free gum (examples: Trident, Orbit) are less likely to transmit these bacteria to their children, and cavities among these children are reduced by up to 70 percent. Studies conducted in Finnish day care centers indicate that xylitol chewing gum may also reduce ear infections in children by up to 40 percent—another added benefit…Who knew?

Take Home Message:

Cavities are contagious! Caregivers need to make sure their teeth are in a healthy state to decrease the chance of passing the bacteria onto your children.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Angela visit:

DR. ANGELA AUSTIN is a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist in Alexandria, VA. She specializes in treating patients aged 1-21. She is also specially trained to treat special needs patients as well as patients with high dental anxiety. She is the owner of Alexandria Children’s Dentistry located at 6303 Little River Turnpike, Suite 345, Alexandria, VA 22312. Phone: 703-942-8404