Clueless about Cavities?
Remember Alicia Silverstone? I give her kudos for vowing to live The Kind Life and all…but there’s a wildly good chance that girlfriend’s putting her adorable little son, Bear Blu, at big risk for cavities. (Sorry, sister! The only reason I’m calling you out as being clueless about cavities is because, up until a few days ago, I was too.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Where’d she come up with that name for her kid?” (No, you’re too grown-up to judge, right? Of course, of course, me too!) No, what you’re really thinking is, “Old news!” because you’ve already seen the video of Alicia swapping spit with her son in an attempt to help him chew up his food—you and at least 169,000 other people, according to YouTube, plus the millions who caught it on the national television news and entertainment programs that ran it.
You’re right, that’s old news. What’s new news is that…
I’m guilty of this crime against kids’ teeth
And YOU probably are, too!
(Nope, I’m not about to step out of the premastication closet. Nor am I about to out you either, so keep cool. For now, your post-modern mothering ways remain under wraps.)
We’re I’m guilty because pre-chewing your little one’s food (a la Ms. Silverstone) isn’t the ONLY way to increase a kid’s risk for cavities. Doing something as common as sharing a feeding utensil, such as a cup or spoon (I’ve done this), kissing them on the mouth (I don’t do this), or blowing on their food (really?) ups the odds they’ll suffer from tooth decay, too, according to The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
When I first read this, I thought, ‘How could that be? People are sharing spoons and kissing each other all over this planet and my dentist never mentioned that it’d cause cavities—a cold and couple other unpleasant things, yes—but not cavities.’
So, I did a little research and discovered an
anxiety-provoking amazingly interesting fact about infants and toddlers.
Turns out, from the age teething starts until about 2.5 years old, a child’s mouth goes through a special window of time (or a period of infectivity) when it’s highly susceptible to being colonized by the bacteria—called mutans streptococcus—that’s largely responsible for causing tooth decay. This is because the immune system is not yet fully developed so, if mutans streptococcus happen to get into the mouth, they’ve got a good chance of being able to take hold and set-up shop there for the long-term. That means that even when baby teeth are long gone, the bacteria will stay put infecting (i.e. rotting) adult permanent teeth as well.
Furthermore (yes, there’s more—and if you’re a mom, you’re about to be called out here, so brace yourself)… after reviewing 46 studies on the subject, researchers discovered that the biggest source of the bacteria is caregivers—moms, in particular. (Dads came in second, I should note.) So, if kids get cavities caused by this bacteria, there’s a good chance they’ve ‘caught’ them from their parents.
Eek! As if worrying about being the source of all my daughter’s future eating neurosis weren’t enough on my plate. Now I have to worry that a slip-up during meal times might be destroying her lil’ pearly whites, too!
Now, for anyone who’s wondering WHY I’d ever share a spoon with my child, here’s the deal: I’d never deliberately share her spoon or fork. However, despite having every intention to keep her utensils out of my mouth—and mine out of hers, I don’t always succeed.
Let me explain and
hopefully maybe you can relate. Meal times—especially when they happen in our own kitchen—are usually pretty chaotic. Utensils are flying. There’s the ones I’m using to prepare things, the ones I’m using to transfer foods from their storage containers to serving/eating bowls, the ones I’m using to feed Isla, and those I’m using to feed myself. In a perfect world, never the twain—or quadruplicate—shall meet. Of course, I don’t live in a perfect world and slip-ups happen.
While I’m busy cutting up foods into mini bites, testing that things aren’t scorching hot, and making sure Isla gets a glimpse of me eating the same foods that she’ll be eating in an effort to defend against pickiness, it’s inevitable that her little baby spoon might end up in my mouth now and again. I usually notice seconds after the feeding fumble has occurred (sometimes midway through it), toss the contaminated utensil into the sink, and then grab a fresh baby spoon only to commit the same silly offense a couple of bites later.
Needless to say, we go through an obscene about of cutlery for one ‘Isla’ meal and, now that I think about it, I should definitely add the dishwasher to my gratitude list pronto.
5 Tips for Stopping Saliva Spread
Since cavity-causing bacteria is spread through saliva, stopping yours from reaching baby’s mouth is key. Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the tips I found to reduce and/or eliminate the problem:
- Avoid sharing a feeding utensil or cup
- Avoid using your mouth to ‘cut’ foods into smaller bites, like a grape or piece of meat (another feeding faux pas I admit to committing in the absence of a knife)
- Avoid cleaning a dropped pacifier with your mouth (never did this but seen it often enough to mention)
- Avoid kissing kids on the mouth (no comment)
- If you’ve got cavities, research shows that chewing xylitol-containing gum 2 to 3 times daily can cut back on enough bacteria in your mouth actually lower the risk of your kid will develop ECC (or early childhood caries, a fancy term for the bacteria-linked tooth decay I’ve been talking about)
I’ve taken these tips one step further and have added a couple additional ideas:
- Avoid cross-contaminating kids’ food by dipping your own used spoon/fork into a child’s bowl for a taste (again, usually done in an effort to show how much mommy likes it)
- Avoid feeding directly from food storage/leftover bins, which doesn’t cause cavities but does contaminate the leftover food with enough of of a child’s own bacteria to hasten spoilage
This post wouldn’t be complete without at least some general feeding tips to keep kids teeth healthy, as recommended by the AAPD and AAP, which include; limiting night time feedings with milk (some experts even recommend never putting a child to sleep with a bottle containing anything but water); avoiding frequent breastfeeding (7 or more times daily) in children 12 months and older, which has been associated with increased ECC; limiting the amount of juice or sugary drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (if any!) daily for kids 1 to 6 years old—also, if you do give kids juice, this should only be from a cup (no sippy cups or bottles) and only alongside a meal or snack; and, of course, limiting overall consumption of high-sugar foods.
Lastly, oral hygiene should begin no later than the eruption of the first tooth according to the AAPD. This means brushing teeth and/or gums with a soft toothbrush or gauze twice daily as soon as teeth emerge, which can also help prevent bacteria from colonizing the mouth. AAPD also recommends scheduling your child’s first dental visit by 12 months.
If you’re interested in learning more about your baby’s teeth, check out A Guide To Children’s Dental Health or Oral Health, both created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a FAQ sheet created by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists.∗