Though we may take great efforts to keep our mouths as clean as possible by brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash, the human mouth is still a place where a lot of bacteria and germs lurk. This begs the question, are dental issues contagious from person to person? Kissing, sharing eating utensils or toothbrushes, or other ways people come into contact with other people’s mouths can all potentially expose you to harmful germs. Just how dangerous are they? It really depends, so let’s take a deeper look into various aspects of contagious dental issues you may contract from others.
Believe it or not, you can exchange 80 million bacteria just from kissing someone! The same goes for sharing eating utensils or anything else that goes into the mouth like a mouth guard or lollipop. This means that you can very well contract the bad bacteria from someone who has gum disease. Even if the transfer rate of these bacteria is small, with repeated exposure between romantic partners or friends who share utensils or toothbrushes, the chances grow. The good news is that gum disease isn’t the same as catching a cold or flu and can’t solely be caused by the transmission of bad bacteria. There are more factors that can lead to “catching” periodontal disease. People who are most at risk are those who already have poor oral health and compromised immune systems, especially children or those who may be undergoing chemo or have an auto-immune disease. Keep yourself safe by making sure you brush and floss regularly and keep up with your bi-annual checkups!
Just like the spread of the common cold, cavity-causing bacteria can also be spread from person to person and much more common than we may think. Streptococcus mutans is the most harmful and common cavity-causing group of bacteria along with lactobacilli that stay in the mouth long after food has been ingested. These two culprits work together to dissolve the tooth mineral which can quickly grow cavities. One of the most common ways these are spread to immune-compromised people is from caretakers to babies. When pacifiers are dropped, many mothers will “cleanse” them in their own mouths and give them back to the baby. They tend to believe that doing so, and by sharing spoons while eating, they are also helping strengthen the baby’s immune system, however, if their own oral health is not well, they are harming the child’s primary teeth! One study saw a significant increase of young children aged three months to 2 years who were infected with Streptococcus mutans making them more prone to cavities. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting or spreading these bacteria is to maintain proper oral health and limit exposure to those who may have issues.
Gingivitis is a specific and all too common form of gum disease that happens when plaque builds up on teeth and causes inflammation around the gum tissue. While plaque is naturally occurring from the wear and tear of consuming food and drink, those who don’t take proper care of their oral health will most often suffer from it. Plaque is what produces the toxins that irritate the gums, but what’s worse is that saliva helps multiply the bacteria. Unfortunately, that makes it much easier for gingivitis to spread from person to person by simple gestures like sharing food or kissing. In most cases, people with strong and healthy immune systems will be able to fight off the gingivitis bacteria that enter their mouth, and with proper oral care, they should not be affected with small exposures. This requires people to have a healthy bodily defense mechanism and constant upkeep with brushing and flossing. Those who are immunocompromised may suffer if they are repeatedly exposed, but smokers are also much more susceptible. Since gingivitis leads to the degradation and death of gum cells around the teeth, it can lead to eventual tooth loss and infection. It should really be avoided at all costs!
Not all contagious oral disease or issues have to be spread from person to person; sometimes it can spread from tooth to tooth in your very own mouth! Sometimes cavities and decay happen in places where people don’t realize. You can’t always feel a cavity, especially if it’s developing in an area that doesn’t often come into direct contact with food or pressure from your bite. This is most often the case when decay begins to develop between teeth, not visible to the naked eye or untrained professional. Tooth decay may develop slowly, but once it has settled into the tooth, it can quickly spread in the nerves and blood inside, leading to a nasty infection. When this infection begins to spread it can travel down to the root of the tooth forming a small pocket of pus, called an abscess, which is dangerous and painful. This spread of infection can lead to lengthy and costly procedures to fix and are best avoided by following proper brushing and flossing habits.
Being mindful of how dental issues can spread from person to person can save you a lot of grief in the future. It’s important to consider someone else’s oral health before you kiss them or share food. Most people think that they can get by without brushing twice a day and flossing once a day, but it’s truly the bare minimum for keeping up with ADA guidelines. Visiting the dentist for a bi-annual checkup is also important to make sure that gums and teeth are healthy and that there aren’t any problems developing in a place where most people don’t realize that decay can build up. Think twice before you are in a situation where you may swap spit with someone who has been neglecting their health and be extra careful if you are dealing with someone who has a compromised immune system. Oral care doesn’t exist only in the mouth; it can affect your overall health and it’s important to take it seriously.