Are Cavities Contagious?

Updated August 17, 2016

The flu. Chickenpox. There are a lot of things that are contagious, but have you ever thought that cavities might be contagious? It seems crazy but believe it or not, there is a little truth backing this up!

The bacteria mutans streptococcus feeds on sugars in our mouths and creates an acid that eats away the enamel of our teeth. As with any other contagious ailment, this bacteria can be spread from one person to another!

Whether it's via food and utensils or a romantic kiss, people can share this cavity-causing bacteria. You can't “catch” a cavity, but your chances are higher when you share bacteria with someone who has cavities or poor dental hygiene!

Here are a few ways to prevent this from happening in your house.

Monitor how much you share

Do you like to share with others? Are you regularly taking a bite off your loved one’s fork or a drink from their glass? Do you share a piece of gum or candy after it has been in a loved one’s mouth? If so, you may be a target for streptococcus bacteria to invade your mouth and try to cause you cavities!

When you share food off of each other's plates, take bites with someone else's fork, and drink out of the same water bottle, then you will be spreading germs. Also, you might want to get away from the bottled water all together, and use tap water because it has fluoride in it. Basically, watch your kids and how much they share with each other. They should share toys, not dinner forks!

Another interesting fact is that you can spread the bacteria as well by using someone else’s chapstick or lipstick as well. Bacteria live in our mouth and our saliva. When you lick your lips, you are spreading the streptococcal bacteria to your lips. When you put on chapstick, lipstick, or lips gloss, the bacteria is transferred from your lips to the moistening item. If someone else uses that moistening tool, they can inadvertently transfer your bacteria into their mouth. This bacteria can then feed on the sugars in their mouth and if they have poor oral hygiene, can cause a cavity in their teeth. If this bacteria happens to be Group A streptococcal bacteria, it can set up its home in your friend’s tonsils and cause them a fever and a sore throat, also known as strep throat!

Brush and floss daily

You just can't get by without this one! Brush after each meal and be sure that you are flossing daily. You can also talk to your dentist about a mouth rinse that can help you prevent the bacteria that causes cavities to form. Set time aside for everyone in the family to floss because this is going to be the step that most kids (and adults) will want to skip. Brush for two minutes, and remember that you don't have to scrub as hard as you think you do in order to have an effective cleaning session. If you scrub too hard, you may end up hurting your gums.

When you hurt your gums, you can cause them to become red, irritated, and inflamed. Too much of this abrasive scrubbing can cause your gums to start to shrink and recede. You do not want this to occur as you not only have more teeth exposed, so you look like you have horse teeth, but your dentin (the layer underneath your tooth enamel) will start to show and can become very sensitive to hot and cold temperatures as well as cause infections. Some of these infections can become quite severe and move directly to your heart. Make sure you are brushing and flossing daily as it does affect your overall health in many ways!

Boost the production of saliva

In order to combat the cavity causing bacteria in your mouth, then you need to boost your saliva production to help your mouth naturally flush away cavity-causing bacteria. You can do this using a few different methods. Some people like to chew sugar free gum a few times a day, especially the kind with xylitol in it. Others prefer to eat fibrous foods to increase the saliva production in their mouth. 

Another clever way to produce more saliva in your mouth is to think about food! When you start thinking about food, your body thinks it is close to the time to eat, so it starts producing more saliva in preparation for the incoming food. The only downfall to this? It will probably make you extremely hungry to the point you have to get a nutritious snack until it is time to eat your next meal!

The last suggestion to produce more saliva within your mouth is to drink a lot of water. It can be either bottled water or tap water with fluoride. Not only will the water wash away the sugar and leftover food particles in your mouth, but drinking water will also increase your saliva production. Either type of water will get those juices running. By increasing your saliva production, you are not only increasing the amount in your mouth to wash away the bacteria and sugars that are remaining in your mouth, but you are keeping your salivary glands healthy as well. Unfortunately, these glands can produce stones that block the production of saliva and reduce the amount you have. These can be very painful so by keeping your saliva flowing, you are keeping your salivary glands in top running order as well.

Visit your dentist

Making regular visits to your dentist is imperative to having a clean and fresh mouth. They can work with you to prevent cavities, as well as help care for any that you may already have. By taking advantage of your regular check-ups you'll end up saving money and time in the future. They will be able to tell if you have tooth decay, and thoroughly clean the areas that you aren't aware are in jeopardy. We often don't realize that we have an area that hasn't been properly cared for in our mouth, until we are in pain. This just doesn't have to be the case. Visit your dentist regularly and be the best dental patient you can!

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