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Passing along harmful bacteria from parents to child

ShareMost parents don't know they can pass harmful bacteria from their mouth to their baby's mouth, which can put their child at an increased risk for cavities. In fact, less than a third of American caregivers (32%) realize they can pass dental disease to their baby. That's one of the key findings from a survey of American children's oral health, conducted on behalf of Delta Dental Plans Association, the nation's leading dental benefits provider. Most people know that the bacteria in the mouth that causes tooth decay can be transferred from person to person. This is most likely during a child's first 2 and one-half years of life. Streptococcus mutans are passed when items contaminated with saliva go into a child's mouth. Typically, this takes place through common parental behaviors, such as sharing eating utensils or using one's mouth to clean a baby's pacifier.  Research shows that moms play a primary role in passing bacteria, but other non-family settings like day care centers also play a role. Caregiver behavior reflects a lack of knowledge about passing on bacteria that can lead to dental disease. Nearly 2 in every 5 (37%) Americans say they sometimes or often share utensils with their children. Caregivers of children ages 2 to 3 are most likely to share utensils with their children. "Babies are actually born without any harmful bacteria in their mouths. But once bacteria colonize in the mouth, your child will be more prone to cavities in baby and permanent teeth," said William Kohn, DDS, vice president of dental science and policy for Delta Dental Plans Association. "If you have a history of poor oral health with frequent cavities, you're particularly likely to pass the germs along." Delta Dental Plans Association advises parents and caregivers to keep their own mouths healthy, cut back on or eliminate saliva-transferring behaviors, and mothers and expecting moms who already chew gum should chew gum sweetened primarily with zylitol. A recent study found that children of mothers who chewed xylitol gum (starting in the sixth month of pregnancy) were significantly less likely to have decay-causing bacteria in their saliva. (From Dentistry Today, Source: Delta Dental Plans Association, August 25, 2011).

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