Can I catch tooth decay like a cold? – Transmission of cavity causing bacteria

Contrary to many parents’ belief that their children get cavities because they were born with “weak teeth”, many children’s teeth are structurally sound.  There seems to be a genetic link to dental decay because children with tooth decay often have an immediate family member who may suffer from tooth decay as well.  The fact of the matter is, many people may not recognize that cavities can be spread to children from their parents, similar to a cold or the flu. Small babies and children are not born with cavity causing-bacteria in their mouths.  They can actually “catch” bacteria from their primary caregivers.  According to recent research studies using advanced DNA technology, researchers can identify similar genetic characteristics of cavity-causing bacteria between immediate family members / primary caregivers and their children.   This finding shows that parents or primary caregivers (grandma, grandpa or nanny) could be an important source of dental infection for children at an early age.1,2,3,4 One of the main routes of transmission is sharing utensils with your child or tasting baby food before giving it to your child.   Cavity causing bacteria in the caregivers’ mouths may be passed on to the children through saliva contact.

The Children’s Oral Care Centre would like to remind parents the following facts that can help protect children against tooth decay:

1)  Wash utensils, cups and other objects thoroughly before sharing them with children as caregivers can pass germs that cause cavities through saliva.

2)  Try to avoid cooling or tasting baby food in your mouth before giving it to your children.

3)  Keeping your teeth healthy and decreasing the number of cavities in your mouth can prevent the spread of cavity causing bacteria to your children.

4) Children’s first dental visit should be around their first birthday as tooth decay can start as soon as a tooth appears.


  1. Mutans streptococci: Acquisition and transmission.

Berkowitz RJ.  Pediatr Dent (2006) 28(2):106-109

2.  Colonization and vertical transmission of Streptococcus mutans in Turkish children.

Alpoz A, Ersin NK, Hames-Kocabas EE, Ucar F, Uzel A. Microbiological Research 163 (2008), p 168-172.

3. Maternal Transmission of Mutans Streptococci in Severe-Early Childhood Caries

Mitchell SC, Ruby JD et al Pediatric Dentistry V31/N3 May/Jun 09 p. 193-201

4. Initial Acquisition and Genetic Identity of Streptococcus mutans of Mother-Child Pairs

Carletto-Korber FP, Gonzalez-Ittig RE,  Jimenez MG, Cornejo LS Pediatric Dentistry V32/N3 May/Jun 10 p. 205-211


Dental Biofilm, sugar bugs, oral bacteria
Many bacteria stick to our tooth surface causing cavities and gum disease