It happens every day. A young mother tenderly kisses her baby on the mouth or gently wipes her baby’s face with a cloth moistened with her own saliva. She caringly tests the temperature of the baby food by tasting it first before serving it to her baby on the same spoon or lets her baby playfully put its fingers in her mouth and then into its own mouth.
The bacteria that cause tooth decay and periodontal disease are not found in the mouths of newborn babies and can be passed on by even a simple kiss on the lips. A baby’s mouth must be colonized with infected saliva which can be transmitted in a number of different ways according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Once the bacteria are in the baby’s mouth, they convert sugars from food and beverages into acids that destroy tooth enamel.
Women with periodontal disease are already at risk for premature births and low-weight babies, so it is easy to see how this disease might easily infect a vulnerable newborn through the seemingly innocent affections of a loving parent.
The AAP recommends that if even one family member has periodontal disease, all of the other family members living in the same household should be screened as well because the incidence of saliva contact in families is commonplace through kissing, sharing utensils, coughing, sneezing, and other family behaviors.
Think you don’t have periodontal disease? Think again. An estimated 80 percent of American adults already have some form of periodontal disease and millions don’t even know it. Only 35% of adults even go to the dentist regularly today anyway, and it was even worse in previous generations.
“Mouth kissers” should not be in denial of the facts just because everyone in their family was a mouth kisser, and no one ever had a problem. How would you know that no one ever had a problem anyway? Really, how often – if ever – did your parents or other close relatives ever discuss their personal periodontal problems with you or anyone else? Just because kissing your babies on the mouth has been a family tradition does not mean it hasn’t caused problems over the generations. It is more likely that you just never connected the dots.
Facts about transmitting germs to our babies were not common knowledge in previous generations. Now that we know better, perhaps families should reconsider old traditions that might adversely affect the long-term health and well-being of new family members.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), kissing can transmit up to 500 different kinds of germs – including those that cause gum disease. Just one kiss can pass gum disease between a parent and child. Yes, kissing on the lips can transmit germs between adults too, but the children are more vulnerable because haven’t developed their immune system yet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding saliva-sharing behaviors of any kind around babies and young children – including kisses on the mouth. The alternative? Kiss them on the cheek instead and give them a big hug. You don’t have to share spit with them to show them that you love them.