Kids may share cavity-causing bacteria

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According to new ongoing research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Biology and School of Dentistry, children may receive oral microbes from other, non-relative children.

It was previously thought that these microbes were passed primarily from mother to child, but in a study presented at this year’s American Society for Microbiology Meeting in Boston, researchers found that 72 per cent of children harbored at least one strain of the cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans not found in any cohabiting family members.

S. mutans is a bacterium that feeds on fermentable carbohydrates—in particular sucrose—that are all too frequently consumed by humans. After meals, S. mutans produces enamel-eroding acids—one of the main causes of tooth decay, or dental caries.

Study author Stephanie Momeni said the researchers tracked 119 African-American children aged between 12 and 18 months and five and six years who lived with at least one family member. They then collected samples from children periodically over the course of eight years.

“The literature tells us that we usually get this bacterium from our mothers,” Momeni said. “This is because we most commonly have more interaction with our mothers when we are very young. However, our data supports that children who interact with other children at school or in nurseries can, and frequently do, contract this bacteria from each other.”

Momeni explained that any interaction that involves saliva such as sharing an ice cream cone or drinking after another child from the same cup or straw, can cause the microbes to be transferred.

“While the data supports that S. mutans is often acquired through mother-to-child interactions, the current study illuminates the importance of child-to-child acquisition of S. mutans strains and the need to consider these routes of transmission in dental caries risk assessments, prevention and treatment strategies,” she said.

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