Are Cavities Contagious?

Can cavities be spread from person to person? Marc Bennet, D.M.D., answers and shares what causes cavities.

Believe it or not, you can catch a cavity. 

Dental cavities are the single most common chronic childhood disease. While the cause of dental decay is multi-factorial, most parents blame candy, snacking, or sugary drinks such as juice or soda. These certainly contribute to dental decay, but bacteria also cause cavities. The main culprit is a bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which lives in the plaque on your teeth and feeds off the sugars in your mouth, producing an acid that weakens your teeth and causes cavities.

Like most bacteria, Streptococcus mutans can be transmitted from one person to another. This is especially true between caregivers and children, and also happens between couples or even people living closely. Research has shown that children usually get the cavity causing bacteria from mom.

The better a parent or caregiver takes care of her teeth, the less likely it is that she will transmit the bacteria. Parents can lower the bacteria in their mouth with basic oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. Treating and preventing cavities in a parent’s mouth helps both the parent and child. Just like avoiding sharing other germs, caregivers should refrain from tasting children’s food, kissing children on the lips, and other actions that could cause the spread of the bacteria.

Brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the dentist at least two times a year, can control the bacteria in your child’s mouth—and starting early helps a lot. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises that the child’s first dental visit should be within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the child’s first birthday.

Main photo: Parents and children should avoid sharing food to prevent spreading the bacteria that causes cavities.


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