"It takes a village to raise a child" is an African proverb that speaks volumes.
It takes a village to ensure good oral health in our children.
Research shows that the bacteria in our mouth determines in part our risks of dental decay.(1,2) Both good and bad bacteria establish themselves as "permanent residents" during the first three years of life.(1-3) The bacteria are transferred from one person to another via saliva.(1) Traditionally, the finger points to Mum, as Mum generally spend the most time with children as the primary carer.(2,3) Contemporary lifestyles have changed this and many children are cared for by many, including Dad, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunties and Nannies.(4) Many children also attend childcare facilities from a very young age and there is evidence of bacteria transmissions between unrelated children.(5) Potentially, anyone who spends substantial time with our children can influence their lifelong decay risks...by the transfer and colonization of their bacteria - both good and bad.
Decay causing bacteria are one of those bad bacteria to establish themselves during the early years of life.(1-3) Once established, these acid-loving, acid-producing bacteria make the mouth more welcoming for more bad bacteria to colonize (3). Once established, these bacteria are difficult to get rid of, resulting in a mouth environment that supports decay and breakdown of teeth.(1, 3) The earlier the colonization and the higher the number of these decay-causing nasties in the mouth, the higher the risk of dental decay - for a LIFETIME! (1,2,6)
What does this mean? What can we do about it?
- Those who look after our children, need to maintain good oral health. Bad bacteria are increased in the presence of dental decay and other oral diseases. More bad bacteria in the mouth, higher risks of transfer.(2,4,6,7)
- Minimize opportunities for bacteria transfer via saliva by avoiding sharing of food, drinks, utensils with our children, especially pre-school aged children.(1,2,8)
- To win the fight against dental decay - everyone who cares for, or works with, children need to be aware of good oral health practices and current oral health knowledge.
Despite dental decay being a preventable oral disease, leaving the job of prevention to "the experts" alone has not led to successful eradication of dental decay. Best oral care starts at home. Community is key. Together as team, we can.
Hugs & Smiles,
- Berkowitz RJ. Mutans streptococci: acquisition and transmission. Pediatr Dent 2006; 28(2): 192-198.
- Wan AK*, Seow WK, Purdie DM, Bird PS, Walsh LJ, Tudehope DI. A longitudinal study of Streptococcus mutans colonization in infants after tooth eruption. J Dent Res 2003; 82(7): 504-508.
- da Silva Bastos Vde A, Freitas-Fernandes LB, Fidalgo TK, Martins C, Mattos CT, de Souza IP, Maia LC. Mother-to-child transmission of Streptococcus mutans: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Dent 2015; 43(2): 181-191.
- Douglass JM, Li Y, Tinanoff N. Association of mutans streptococci between caregivers and their children. Pediatr Dent 2008; 30(5): 375-387.
- Domejean S, Zhan L, DenBesten PK, Stamper J, Boyce WT, Featherstone JD. Horizontal transmission of mutans streptococci in children. J Dent Res 2010; 89(1): 51-55.
- Kohler B, Andreen I. Mutans streptococci and caries prevalence in children after early maternal caries prevention: a follow-up at 19 years of age. Caries Res 2012; 46(5): 474-480.
- Lin HK, Fang CE, Huang MS Cheng HC, Huang TW, Chang HT, Tam KW. Effect of maternal use of chewing gums containing xylitol on transmission of mutans streptococci in children: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Paediatr Dent 2016; 26(1): 35-44.
- (National Health and Medical Research Council. Infant feeding guidelines: a summary. Canberra: NHMRC. Published online February 2013. Last update September 2015. Accessed online: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n56
*author is Annetta Tsang (nee Wan)