February is Children’s Dental Health month. As I only blog every so often I wrestled with what I wanted to share with parents this month. I thought about stressing the importance of making sure little ones visit the dentist no later than their first birthday. I also thought about discussing proper use of fluoride supplements and fluoridated toothpaste. I ultimately decided to take the road less traveled and talk about prevention of cavities prior to eruption of the baby teeth. Since February is most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, I immediately thought about kissing. Unfortunately, for some people kissing one’s baby can put the baby at a higher risk of developing cavities.
Prevention of cavities has a few components. Some of which I’m sure you’re well aware of such as the physical removal of plaque and food particles by brushing. Another component of prevention is making the teeth less susceptible to decay with fluoride products. The least commonly discussed component of the disease process is the role that bacteria play. I know it sounds odd to the ear to hear cavities referred to as a disease process but that’s in fact what it is. It’s actually the most common chronic disease of early childhood. Without boring you with too many microbiological details I’ll just say, just as there is a bacteria that causes strep throat there is another type of strep named Strep Mutans (MS) that causes cavities.
Unfortunately, there are individuals that have higher numbers of and/or more aggressive strains of MS than others. Those individuals are typically at a higher risk of developing dental decay. It turns out that even prior to the baby’s teeth coming in the baby already has the EXACT strain of MS the mom has. This occurs through what’s called vertical transmission. Vertical transmission occurs when the mom kisses the baby on the mouth. The bacteria hangs around in the folds of the tongue until the teeth erupt. Once the teeth erupt the bacteria have some extra things to hang on to.
The good news is there are preventive measures that new mothers can take to reduce the amount of MS levels in their saliva. Xylitol is a sugar that can be found in many gums and candies. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), studies have shown when the mother chews certain types of xylitol containing gum at least two to three times per day it can dramatically reduce the amount of cavity causing bacteria in the child’s mouth by reducing the amount of MS in the mother’s mouth. In order for maximum efficacy new moms should begin this regimen when their baby is three months old and continue until their child is at least two. Additionally, the total amount of xylitol per day should range from four to ten grams. Many of the xylitol containing gums have about 1.7 grams of xylitol per piece. Be sure to check the label of the brand you purchase to make sure you are getting the proper amount of daily xylitol.
A xylitol regimen isn’t just beneficial for the child but also beneficial for the mother’s oral health. Additionally just about anyone can use this regimen to utilize the oral health benefits xylitol provides. Remember, before embarking on a cavity prevention regimen for yourself or your child check with your oral health care provider first to make sure you are on the right track.