Can oral care for babies prevent future cavities?

A recent study confirms the presence of bacteria associated with early childhood caries (ECC) in infant saliva – and suggests the need for oral health care in children at a far younger age than previously thought.
Kelly Swanson, lead researcher and professor of animal science at the University of Illinois in the US, says: ‘By the time a child reaches kindergarten, 40% have dental cavities. In addition, populations who are of low socio-economic status, who consume a diet high in sugar, and whose mothers have low education levels are 32 times more likely to have this disease.’

Professor Swanson’s study focused on infants before teeth erupted, compared to most studies focused on children already in preschool or kindergarten – after many children already have dental cavities.

He said: ‘We now recognise that the “window of infectivity,” which was thought to occur between 19 and 33 months of age years ago, really occurs at a much younger age.

‘Minimising snacks and drinks with fermentable sugars and wiping the gums of babies without teeth, as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, are important practices for new parents to follow to help prevent future cavities.’

In addition, his team used high-throughput molecular techniques to characterise the entire community of oral microbiota, rather than focusing on identification of a few individual bacteria.

‘Improved DNA technologies allow us to examine the whole population of bacteria, which gives us a more holistic perspective. Like many other diseases, dental cavities are a result of many bacteria in a community, not just one pathogen.’

The demonstration that many members of the bacterial community that cause biofilm formation or are associated with ECC are already present in infant saliva justifies more research on the evolution of the infant oral bacterial community, the professor said.

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