It seems that new parents have one more reason to pay attention to the oral health of their toothless babies as a recent University of Illinois study confirms the presence of bacteria associated with early childhood caries (ECC) in infant saliva. This is much younger than at first thought as up till now it was believed these types of bacteria were not present in children until around 19 to 33 months.
ECC is a virulent form of caries, more commonly known as tooth decay. Cavities are the most prevalent infectious disease in children. By the time a child reaches kindergarten, 40 percent have dental cavities. In addition, populations who are of low socioeconomic status, who consume a diet high in sugar, and whose mothers have low education levels are 32 times more likely to have this disease.
The study focused on infants before teeth erupted, compared to most studies focused on children already in preschool or kindergarten – after many children already have dental cavities.
It is now recognized that the “window of infectivity,” which was thought to occur between 19 and 33 months of age, really occurs at a much younger age. Minimizing snacks and drinks with fermentable sugars and wiping the gums of babies without teeth are important practices for new parents to follow to help prevent future cavities.
Dental cavities are a result of many bacteria in a community, not just one pathogen. Researchers learned that the oral bacterial community in infants without teeth was much more diverse than expected and identified hundreds of species. This demonstrated that many members of the bacterial community that cause plaque formation or are associated with ECC are already present in infant saliva before teeth have erupted.
Educating parents-to-be on oral hygiene and dietary habits is the most important strategy for the prevention of dental cavities
But could manipulating the bacterial community in infants before tooth eruption help prevent this disease in the future?
It may. But is it possible that this will be yet another way in which we use science and medicine to bury things in the body by interfering with what could be the body’s natural way of cleansing and releasing?