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Dental Cavities on the Rise

Dental caries, or as they are more commonly known, cavities. They’re those pesky little spots of decay in your teeth that form when your below-the-surface tooth enamel breaks down, causing the surface enamel to collapse, and creating a sinkhole in your tooth. But what causes cavities in the first place, and why are they on the rise?

"According to recent data, cavities are increasing across every single age group in America," said Dr. Michele Simpson of Wilmington, North Carolina. "Which is ironic, because today there are more tooth care products on the market than ever before."

But according to Simpson, the increase in cavities may not be entirely about hygiene.

"A recent study at the University of Zurich found that genetic enamel defects may be caused by not just bacteria on the teeth, but by the strength of the enamel itself," explained Simpson. "Basically, some teeth have stronger enamel than others, and those with weaker enamel have less protection against cavities."

It’s in His Kiss
Another surprising cause of cavities?

"Believe it or not, it may be your parents," says Simpson.

Simpson is referring to the numerous studies that have shown that the bacteria responsible for causing cavities can be easily transmitted between parents and children, and even children and peers. Known as "vertical transmission," the bacteria can be transmitted via saliva if the parent or person doing the transmitting has serious, untreated tooth decay. Transmission from peer to peer or sibling to sibling is known as "horizontal transmission."

According to Simpson, vertical and horizontal transmission occur most frequently at a time in a child’s life when they’re at an especially high risk for tooth decay. The natural immunity to S. Mutans bacteria (the bacteria responsible for tooth decay) we develop over time has not yet developed, and the initial passive immunity passed from the mother to child during pregnancy has worn off.

"All it takes for vertical or horizontal immunity to pass from one person to another is a kiss or a shared cup or utensil," said  Simpson. "It really is as simple as that."

Is Prevention Possible? 
So, what can we do to prevent this type of bacterial transmission? After all, most parents aren’t going to stop kissing their kids.

"I wouldn’t say don’t kiss your kids," said. Simpson. "But maybe try to avoid kissing them on the mouth if you haven’t brushed your teeth recently. Also, avoid sharing cups, straws, utensils, toothbrushes, or anything else that has been in your mouth. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when your toddler grabs your drink off the table, but all the more reason to keep current with your dental exams and maintain excellent oral hygiene between cleanings."

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