Left unchecked, tooth decay can cause cavities, infections, tooth loss, gingivitis, and even periodontitis. That’s the bad news. The good news is that all tooth decay is preventable by a commitment to good oral hygiene coupled with annual regular professional teeth cleanings, twice-yearly dental checkups, and dental treatment as recommended by a dentist near you.
Recent research has raised a slightly different question, though? Are cavities catching? Can you catch a cavity from someone else, or give someone else a cavity? Answering the question is easiest with some basic information about tooth decay and how it develops.
Tooth Decay 101
Whether we think of it this way or not, tooth decay is an infection. That infection is caused by the combination of three elements in your mouth — millions upon millions of bacteria, food matter (especially sugary and starchy foods), and tooth enamel. As bacteria chew through the sugary and starchy foods we eat, they produce a biofilm called plaque that accumulates on our teeth and gums.
Unless we eliminate that plaque by brushing, flossing, rinsing, and seeing our dentist in Red Deer, that plaque produces acids and byproducts that will dissolve the enamel on the surface of our teeth. As the calcium in your enamel is eaten away by those acids, cavities are left behind.
Of the 300 species of bacteria present in your mouth at any one time, there are a few particularly nefarious villains that can ultimately contribute to tooth decay. Streptococcus mutans is most likely to contribute to tooth decay on the smooth surfaces between your teeth. Lactobacillus is drawn particularly to the grooves and ridges found on the biting surfaces of your teeth. Actinomyces as the bacteria most likely to be associated with infection affecting your gum line and the roots of your teeth.
Can you catch a cavity?
Some research suggests that the bacteria that is most likely to contribute to tooth decay and gum disease if plaque is not routinely removed from our teeth — Streptococcus mutans, Lactobacillus, and Actinomyces — can be transferred from one person to another.
When those bacteria have been found in infants, they have most likely been transferred from parent to child through saliva. That transfer can happen as innocently as when a parent kisses their infant or tastes the infant’s food before feeding their son or daughter. Similarly, bacteria that may cause tooth decay and gum disease can be transferred between couples by the exchange of minuscule amounts of bacteria-laden saliva while kissing.
So, while your cavity per se may not be contagious, you may be able to transfer the germs that produce tooth decay that caused that cavity and that could cause gingivitis and even periodontitis. Just because those bacteria are transferred from one person with tooth decay or a cavity to another does not necessarily mean that the recipient will develop tooth decay or cavities of their own.
The recipients of those decay-related bacteria can fend off tooth decay by their own dedication to good oral hygiene — brushing, flossing, and rinsing to remove the sugary fuel that those bacteria feed upon. Having said that, the youngest children are most vulnerable to bacteria being transferred to them before they’ve developed the oral hygiene habits to protect themselves.
If you have a dental cavity in Red Deer or what to amp up your dental hygiene game for your own sake or the benefit of your infant child or family, our staff can help. Contact a dentist near you and ask to be brought up to speed on the best practices for oral hygiene, or even to arrange for regular dental checkups.