The bond between mother and child is strong indeed, with this connection beginning during pregnancy and developing throughout a child's lifetime. Tender moments shared, however, may include the exchange of salivary bacteria, which can increase a child's risk of dental caries. Researchers have found that maternal bacterial challenges not only raise the likelihood of oral decay among children, but also accurately predict the incidence of early childhood caries (ECC).
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has long suggested that the exchange of saliva between parents and children should be minimized in order to reduce the risk of microbial transmission. Avoiding the sharing of utensils, establishing a dental home by age 1, limiting the consumption of fermentable carbohydrates, and early implementation of twice-daily toothbrushing are all key to maintaining oral health, the organization states. Research has also shown that socioeconomic factors often inhibit access to dental care, as well as the oral health literacy of parents and caregivers.
In a study ("Maternal Oral Bacterial Levels Predict Early Childhood Caries Development") published in March in the Journal of Dental Research, scientists examined the salivary bacterial levels (mutans streptococci and lactobacilli) of low-income Hispanic mothers from pregnancy through their children's second birthdays. The incidence of ECC was surveyed in the children at 36 months. Mothers and children were seen every 3 months to 6 months, at which time the researchers collected information about oral health status, and salivary bacterial, sociodemographic, and behavioral data.
The results revealed that mothers with high salivary mutans streptococci levels were more likely to have children with mutans streptococci in their oral flora. Maternal salivary challenges also correlated to a two-fold increase in the incidence of ECC among children. This led the authors to conclude that high salivary bacterial levels in mothers can predict which children are likely to experience ECC.