It is important to have a basic understanding of what the causes of dental decay are and why some children are more cavity prone than others. It will also explain the most current information regarding prevention and control of this disease.
Cavities or “holes in the teeth” are caused by a disease called dental caries. This is the most common bacterial infection we find in children. More than 25 percent of Americans have 75-80 percent of the cavities or decayed teeth in this country. The primary reason for this significant imbalance is a genetic factor we call “susceptibility to disease.”
Dental decay or cavities can occur after a child is exposed to a group of germs known as “streptococcus mutans.” This group of germs is present in literally everyone’s mouth saliva. In our society, with kissing our babies and tasting or sharing their foods, it is impossible not to pass “strep mutans” to our children via saliva to saliva contact. Whether this germ does or does not attack the teeth depends on heredity or genetics.
For many children, the immune system produces antibodies which adequately block the strep mutans from attacking the teeth. For these lucky children, dental disease (decay) may not develop even if their brushing and flossing habits are not ideal. Generally however, if a parent has significant decay, he or she will pass not only the germ, but also his or her lack of immunity to strep mutans to the child. The child will be “cavity prone,” just like mom or dad.