Are Cavities Contagious?

Are Cavities Contagious?

Cavities, also known as "dental caries" are a red flag to your dentist that you are experiencing tooth decay, a condition in which the enamel of the tooth is eaten away, causing a host of other problems. What many people do not know is that tooth decay is transmissible, meaning it can spread not only from one tooth to the next if untreated, but from your mouth to the mouth of your spouse or children.

What Causes Tooth Decay?

There are many causes of tooth decay, some you can prevent completely, and others you must take extra care to mitigate. In the simplest of terms, bacteria causes tooth decay. The most common cause of decay-causing bacteria is improper oral hygiene (not enough brushing, flossing, incorrect brushing, infrequent tooth cleanings etc.). Because bacteria is invisible to the eye, it is easy to overlook the spaces between your teeth. Unfortunately, cavities are permanent (irreversible), and must be filled by a dental professional to prevent their growth and proliferation. Other causes of tooth decay include gum disease, smoking, frequent snacking, and sugary foods. Oral bacteria feeds on sugar and food particles left behind, so it makes sense that the more often you eat, the more often you expose your teeth to harmful bacteria causing foods.  

What Causes Bacterial Transmission?

According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 11% of mothers believe that oral bacteria cannot be transmitted from mother to child. This is a common misperception, even among educated adults. In fact, the most common method of oral bacterial transmission was kissing the child on the lips (38% transmission rate), followed by sharing a spoon with a child.

Oral transmission is not limited to adults and children. The New York Times reported that when evaluating couples, even a partner who has never had a cavity can contract one from a spouse or partner with poor oral hygiene. Additionally, if left untreated, a cavity on one tooth can "jump over" to the next tooth, and so on and so forth.

Why Are Some People More Susceptible to Tooth Decay Than Others?

There are as many variables to oral wellness as any other aspect of our health. We all know someone who has never gotten a cavity in their life, as we also all know a person who seems to be able to eat anything and never gain a pound. Biology plays a part, as some people naturally have more crowded teeth than others. Tighter spaces and crooked or jagged teeth can act as bacterial hiding spots, and some people simply have teeth that are more spaced out and easier to clean. Another major factor is diet. People with higher sugar intake get more cavities than people who have sworn off sugar, since, as mentioned earlier, sugar is the primary source of food for oral bacteria. Gum disease and unnaturally dry mouth can be blamed as genetic causes of oral decay, while some unlucky people just create more of the bacteria that causes cavities.

The number one way to prevent cavities is to visit your dentist biannually for scheduled cleanings and early detection. Dr. Frances Chauvin and her staff at Bendel Family Dentistry can give you a free benefits check. We work with every single patient to customize a care plan that works for you.