Is Dental Disease Contagious?
Question: “I read an article last week that said gum disease and cavities are both contagious. Is there any truth to that?”
Answer: Unfortunately, research has shown this to be true. Adults can transmit the bad bacteria that cause periodontal (gum and bone) disease to others through kissing, sharing utensils, or anything else that permits the exchange of saliva.
Unfortunately, this is especially troubling for children. Small children generally don't have any of the disease-causing bacteria until it has been transferred to them by an adult - usually a family member, friend, or other caretaker.
Pregnant women can even transmit these harmful bacteria to their unborn babies through the bloodstream. This can lead to premature labor and low birth-weight babies. That makes taking care of one's oral health tremendously important for anyone who is considering getting pregnant.
Dental caries (cavities) are caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus Mutans, and this has also been shown to be transmittable to children. Research isn't quite as definitive on whether or not Strep Mutans is transferred from one adult to another, however.
That means that if a parent has a mouthful of cavities, he or she can transmit the bacteria that cause those cavities to their own children. If an adult has periodontal disease, he or she can transmit it to their spouse, children, or other loved ones.
Many people have the feeling that "if nothing hurts, then everything must be fine." Unfortunately, this is very often not true. I see patients regularly who have very large cavities that aren't causing them any pain. I also see many people with severe periodontal disease who don't feel any pain.
Waiting for painful symptoms to appear before visiting a dentist is one of the worst mistakes people can make with regard to their oral health. Unfortunately, this is now something that doesn't just affect the individual, but can also impact his or her loved ones.
I strongly encourage everyone to visit their dental team regularly to ensure that any dental infection is diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. This will not only protect one from pain and potential tooth loss, but it will help to prevent the transfer of harmful bacteria to one's children and other loved ones.
Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Valparaiso and Chesterton. Additionally, he serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics and is involved with many other local, state, national, and international dental organizations. Questions for Dr. Arnold can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to: 1830 South 11th St., Chesterton, IN, 46304. More information on this and a variety of other dental topics can be found at: www.SmilesByArnold.com.