Scientific evidence is strong that cavities are a contagious disease with primary caregivers initiating the process in young children. How to protect your family from transmission of the highly infectious bacteria responsible.
Cavities, also known as caries or tooth decay, is one of the most common chronic diseases for children in the United States. In some countries such as Australia, it is number one! (1, 2)
What almost all parents do not realize, however, is that tooth decay is not only a chronic disease. It is highly infectious as well!
Cavities are infectious?
Yes, you can “catch” cavities from someone else, just like you can a cold or the flu! (3)
Most parents are shocked when they realize that something so simple as sharing a spoon or cup with a child can, in fact, transmit cavity-causing bacteria into their little one’s mouth, initiating the process of tooth decay.
We all know about the importance of washing hands, but no one…including conventional dentists…ever seems to mention keeping your cavities to yourself too!
How Cavities are “Caught”
The pathogenic bacterial strains most responsible for tooth decay in early childhood are Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus.
According to Dr. Trey Wilson DDS, these pathogenic bacterial strains responsible for causing cavities can spread from mouth to mouth via shared food and utensils as well as sneezing, coughing, and kissing. (4)
While some may doubt whether cavities can truly be caught and spread from person to person, there is quite a bit of solid scientific evidence on the subject.
Scientific Studies on Cavities as an Infectious Disease
The bacterium Streptococcus mutans is highly contagious and one of the strains primarily implicated in early childhood cavities.
According to a 2017 report in the South African Dental Journal, the evidence is strong that babies are initially exposed to this bacteria via transmission from their primary caregivers.
While Streptococcus mutans is absent in the mouth at birth, once the teeth erupt, its prevalence increases rapidly. This is because the bacterium requires a non-shedding surface such as enamel to thrive.
Since SM [Streptococcus mutans] are found in the mouth, transmission is likely mediated via the saliva. The primary care giver of the child (mother, father, guardian, siblings) has been implicated through genetic analysis as a donor, and studies have reported a strong positive correlation between the presence of SM in the saliva of mothers and their children. (5)
It is important to note that that Streptococcus mutans is part of normal flora. Hence, it is not possible to completely eliminate it, nor should that be the goal.
Factors that Increase Transmission
However, when Streptococcus mutans becomes a dominant strain in saliva, an imbalance in the oral flora exists. It is at this point that the chance of transmission to others becomes significantly higher.
The Australian Dental Journal, in a review of current knowledge about the key factors involved in oral colonization of the Streptococcus mutans in young children, cited the following.
Mothers with salivary levels of S. mutansvgreaterthan 106 organisms per millilitre of saliva have a greater than 50 per cent rate of transmission of the bacteria to their 10 to 16 month old children compared with a rate of only 30 per cent in the case of mothers with only 103 organisms per millilitre of saliva. (6)
Researchers further noted that:
…mothers who have greater caries experience, periodontal disease, poor oral hygiene, low socio-economic status and education as well as frequent snacking have higher risk of transmission of MS [Streptococcus mutans] to the infant. (7)
How to Protect Your Family from Catching Cavities
The South African Dental Journal warns parents that the evidence is strong that cavity-causing bacteria are transmitted from mothers to babies and that dental decay is indeed a contagious disease. (8)
The question is, what to do to best prevent cavity transmission within a family?
Avoidance of refined sugars and grains and following a nutrient-dense traditional diet is the best way dietarily to protect the teeth from decay according to the seminal work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price DDS.
However, toxic environmental factors are complicating the process today. So many onslaughts to the immune system negatively impact dental health. These assaults on immunity were, for the most part, not present at the time of Dr. Price’s research early in the last century.
According to the Australian Dental Journal, the frequency of inoculation with Streptococcus mutans is key.
…mothers who share foods, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes and other items with their children have the highest risk of transmitting MS to their children. (9)
Thus, it will likely take more than dietary vigilance for parents to protect their children from infectious cavities taking hold.
Ways to Avoid Sharing of Cavity Causing Bacteria at Home
Besides avoiding the sharing of anything that would transmit saliva between family members, other protective measures could include:
- Kisses on the cheek instead of the mouth.
- Consider using oral probiotic lozenges to replenish beneficial salivary flora to reduce the population of Streptococcus mutans in the mouth and the risk of transmission.
- Teach children to never share food or utensils with their friends.
- Encourage family members to cover their mouth with a cloth or the elbow (not the hands!) when sneezing or coughing at home to minimize the airborne spread of cavity-causing bacteria.
- Invest in a quality air filter that removes bacteria and viruses from the air.
- Oil pulling with an ozone-enhanced oil and/or floss with ozonated oil. Ozone kills pathogenic oral bacteria.
- Schedule regular dental cleanings and examinations by a biological dentist who understands that cavities are contagious, treating the cause, and not just the symptoms. If you don’t have one in your area, my dentist also offers phone consults to provide a second opinion or walk you through how to best deal with your conventional dentist. You can contact Dr. Litano’s office here.
(1) CDC: Children’s Oral Health
(2, 3) Tooth Decay in Children
(4) Are Cavities Contagious?
(5, 8) South African Dental Journal. Is Dental Caries Contagious?
(6, 7, 9) Australian Dental Journal. Factors influencing oral colonization of mutans streptococci in young children
Sally also believes that the moon landings were faked and 911 was an inside job. Tom Cowan recently lost his medical license. Take from that what you will.
Doesn’t Sally Fallon Morrell’s and Tom Cowan’s new book The Contagion Myth challenge the belief that disease is spread by infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses? (I haven’t read the book itself but have read the overview)
Dental clinic Malden MA
Cavities are a big issue that should be not be ignored by anyone. Cavities are caused due to lack of dental hygiene, oral cleaning etc. Cavities cause to tooth decay which will lead to tooth fall after some time. Preventing this infection on time is quite necessary. Thanks for sharing! Surely this will help many people.
sara, every how much time do you go to the dental hygienist if at all ? in your opinion , do dental hygienists do harm to the teeth by the metal tools they use duting the time they scrap the tartar (calculus) from the teeth?
Sarah Pope MGA
Teeth cleaning is safe and fine, in my opinion. Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston Price Foundation, goes every 3-6 months apparently!
so what you say is if one has good gut and oral flora microbiome , he will not need to work hard to heal his cavities such as strictly avoiding even natural sugars , and phytic acid and so on ( like ramiel nagel said ) ….. but he will need ONLY to add vitamins A,D,and K2 , and bone broth to a regular diet which includes sugar and other less healthy foods – the same as dr. price did and saw exelent resultes in healing cavities with his one healthy meal a day he gave children with sever cavities ??
Sarah Pope MGA
Let me re-phrase. What I said is that if one has a normal gut and oral flora, a traditional diet such as described in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration should be sufficient to resolve the cavities.
If one does not have normal flora (most babies, children and adults today do not) then absorption of nutrients from a traditional diet will likely be impaired, and hence, healing of cavities from diet alone much more difficult. Resolution of flora issues will be required in conjunction with traditional diet to achieve best results.
I’ve never read that cavities can be contagious! You are right about being aware of how to practice good hygiene in the home as well as teaching that to our kids. I’ve seen people sharing utensils or food and cringe because I know it’s not good. Now we know why! I think that is we focus on eating the right foods that enhance good and balanced oral and gut flora we’ll be well on our way to raising healthy kids and having a healthy family. Thanks for this article!
hi sarah , you replayed to my question above . my qestion was why today we need a very strict diet to be able to heal teeth and you said because today people have unhealthy gut and oral microbiom …..
can you pleas explain what dose unhealthy oral and gut microbiom have to do whith healing teeth naturaly on a strict diet instead of healing teeth on a regular diet like dr price….. i just dont get it …..
acording to ramiel nagel teeth heal from the inside out if we have vitamins A,D,and k2 and minerals
calcium and phospurous and collagen ??thank you!
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, teeth heal from the inside out IF the gut is able to absorb the nutrients. People today have many complicating factors affecting this ability … pollution, imbalanced gut flora (and oral flora), heavy metal toxicity and the list goes on. These complicating factors DID NOT challenge the health of ancestral societies in the same way as today.
IF you are able to absorb all the nutrients from your food as ancestral people’s were able, THEN you will be able to heal teeth perfectly. BUT, most people today have other issues and hence need to watch their oral flora and take precautions not to spread it to their child if they are having dental issues already. For example, if you have silver amalgams, you absolutely DO NOT have healthy oral flora, so take precautions not to spread this to your child. If a person’s gut is in good shape, they have no dental issues, then no worries … kiss away to your baby 🙂
can you pleas explain in depth why natural teeth healing by diet experts tell people which want to heal there teeth or prevent cavities that if they want to be able to do so they need to be on a very hard- difficult diet wich includes not eating even natural sugars at all (for preventing cavities to reduce natural sugares ), eleminating pytic acid and eating only expensive cod liver oil raw milk and so on . while dr. price told his freinds to bring him the most severe cavities cases of children for healing there cavities only by one healthy meal a day which included cod liver oil butter oil , bone broth and 2 or more glasses of raw milk . he was able to completely control all of the cavities in this study even that these children ate the same junk food they ate which included donutes fride in vegtable oil , sugar, , highley sweetend coffe etc ?
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes … all of this is true, however, during Dr. Price’s time, people didn’t take antibiotics (they didn’t exist then), the birth control pill, ibuprofen, zantac or any of the dozens of other medications regularly that disrupt body flora including that of the mouth. My Grandmother had surgery to remove her appendix right about the time Dr. Price was writing his book, and she took no antibiotics after surgery because they didn’t have any!
All of these modern disruptions to the body microbiome can be “caught” by others we live with and share bathrooms, utensils etc with. When pathogenic strains take hold, they will cause cavities even if the diet is excellent. A disrupted microbiome cannot be solved overnight simply by switching to a traditional diet. Most parents today have severely disrupted oral and gut microbiomes … which they can pass on to their babies causing rotting baby teeth and cavities in adult teeth once they start coming in. If you are a parent and have excellent gut health and eat a traditional diet as outlined in Dr. Price’s book, then this information is of no concern for you, thankfully 🙂
ramiel nagel the author of the book cure tooth decay says that cavities are not an infection nor a bacteria disease but only a nutrition caused disease. Do you agree with him so how does it fit whith this article ?
Sarah Pope MGA
Although nutrition certainly is primary, the bacteria responsible for causing cavities can be caught from someone else and if nutritional status is poor, take hold very quickly. Also, his book was written before this research came out.
I love kissing my babies on the mouth! How sad my life would be if I became so germ obsessed
Sarah Pope MGA
Very true! Be sure to have the flora of your mouth in order then so you don’t pass anything pathogenic onto your baby.
I also wouldn’t consider this germ obsessed given the number of young toddlers with severe tooth decay issues today. The research hopefully serves as motivation for the care givers to adopt healthier habits so their oral flora is balanced.
does a teeth cleaning by the dentist an aggressive treatment for teeth?
Sarah Pope MGA
Cleaning the teeth helps but it does not alter the flora of the mouth other than temporarily reducing the pathogenic strains.