By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
Everyone knows you can catch a cold or the flu. But can you catch a cavity?
Researchers have found that not only is it possible, but it occurs all the time.
While candy and sugar get all the blame, cavities are caused primarily by bacteria that cling to teeth and feast on particles of food from your last meal. One of the byproducts they create is acid, which destroys teeth.
Just as a cold virus can be passed from one person to the next, so can these cavity-causing bacteria. One of the most common is Streptococcus mutans. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to it, and studies have shown that most pick it up from their caregivers — for example, when a mother tastes a child’s food to make sure it’s not too hot, said Dr. Margaret Mitchell, a cosmetic dentist in Chicago.
A number of studies have also shown that transmission can occur between couples, too. Dr. Mitchell has seen it in her own practice.
“In one instance, a patient in her 40s who had never had a cavity suddenly developed two cavities and was starting to get some gum disease,” she said. She learned the woman had started dating a man who hadn’t been to a dentist in 18 years and had gum disease.
To reduce the risk, Dr. Mitchell recommends frequent flossing and brushing, and chewing sugar-free gum, which promotes saliva and washes away plaque and bacteria.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Cavities can be transmitted from one person to another.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 29, 2011, on page D5 of the New York edition.