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Are Cavities Contagious? Do They Spread?

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In the realm of oral health, cavities are often a concern. Though dentists can address these with fillings, prevention through regular checkups and cleanings is key.

As a parent, you probably already know to look out for cavities in your kids’ teeth for their sake. Still, many are surprised to learn that cavities could be contagious. Sort of. Cavities themselves aren’t contagious, but the bacteria that cause cavities can spread through saliva.

What Are Cavities?

Cavities are small holes that develop on the surface of teeth due to tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria present in your mouth combine with food particles and sugar to create a sticky film known as plaque. This plaque then produces acids that erode the tooth enamel, the tooth’s protective outer shell, which can eventually cause cavities.

Over time, these small holes can get bigger and reach deeper into the tooth. This could lead the pulp inside the tooth to become infected, causing pain and even tooth loss if not treated. Common signs and symptoms of cavities include:

  • Toothaches
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • Sensitivity to sweet foods or drinks
  • Visible holes in the enamel
  • Black or brown stains on the tooth

You’ll likely have to talk with your child to learn if they’re dealing with a cavity, but your dentist can look for early signs of tooth decay during an exam. Since children’s baby teeth have thinner enamel, they can be at a higher risk for cavities. For that reason, it’s essential to bring your kid to their dentist every 6 months.

Cavity Treatment

Cavities need to be treated by a dentist. Treatment typically involves carefully removing the damaged part of the tooth and cleaning away the bacteria. Your dentist can then fill the hole with a material like silver amalgam, composite resin, or porcelain. Getting your child’s cavity filled is important, as untreated cavities could lead to gum disease, tooth loss, and other serious dental problems.

Can Cavities Spread?

Cavities aren’t contagious in the same way the flu is. You can’t “catch” a cavity. However, the bacteria that cause them can be spread from person to person, typically through saliva. This could be from sharing utensils, kissing, or anything else that could cause you to come into contact with the mouth bacteria of someone with a cavity.

You’re probably now thinking of all the ways your kids spread their germs around—and seemingly attract germs back to them. Many times, a child’s cavity can be traced back to their caregiver. 

Maybe you have a cavity of your own, and you simply tested the temperature of your child’s food with your mouth before mealtime. This could transfer the bacteria that caused your cavity to them, putting them at risk of developing the same enamel-eating bacteria. It is a simple act that could affect your child’s oral health.

This is why everyone in your family should practice good oral hygiene. Help your young kids brush their teeth twice daily, and do the same for your own. You can also have them rinse with water after they eat to help eliminate the harmful bacteria ready to feast on the sugars and starches from their meal.

Preventing Cavities for Your Family

While it is possible to transfer cavity-causing bacteria, there are some easy ways to avoid this. Focus on your family’s oral health with these tips for preventing cavities:

  • Brush your teeth: Brushing your teeth for 2 minutes twice daily helps clean away bacteria that could lead to cavities. Children 3–6 years old should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily: Flossing can reach the places your toothbrush can’t. Use a length of floss about as long as your child’s arm and wipe the tooth from top to bottom.
  • Oral rinse: Using mouthwash can help clear out the remaining bacteria collected on the gum line. Children under 6 shouldn’t use mouthwash, but rinsing with water can be beneficial.
  • Drink water: Water can be simple but effective in oral care. It can neutralize acids and wash away food that may feed harmful bacteria while also helping you avoid sugary drinks.
  • Healthy nutrition: When your child doesn’t get enough essential nutrients, it can impact their oral health, making their teeth and gums more prone to decay.
Close-up of a young woman smiling as a dentist examines her teeth with a dental mirror

Kids Cavity Care & More

Cavities themselves aren’t contagious, but the bacteria that cause cavities can be spread through saliva. We know kids—keeping germs where they should be can be tricky. Our team at Bloom Orthodontics can examine your child’s teeth, looking for signs of tooth decay and filling cavities when they’re found. Don’t let cavities get out of hand. Book an oral exam today.

Written by Bloom Dentistry

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