Periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay affect millions of people around the world. Although both oral health conditions are preventable, they continue to impact the dental health of adults and children and can even result in tooth loss.
Nearly half of all adults have some form of gum disease, while over 25% of adults have untreated tooth decay. With these oral diseases affecting so many people, it’s easy to wonder if these conditions are actually contagious, meaning they can be spread between people.
We know certain diseases are contagious, such as the flu, pink eye, and tuberculosis, but what about oral health conditions, such as gum disease and tooth decay? The answer may surprise you.
How Many Bacteria?
First, let’s take a look at how many bacteria can be swapped from a single kiss.
Research shows that a 10-second intimate kiss (which involves contact with the tongue) can result in an exchange of 80 million bacteria. While this number may seem staggering, keep in mind that not all bacteria are bad. However, this high amount does indicate just how much oral bacteria can be transferred in a single kiss.
When you see this number, it makes sense to wonder whether oral health conditions such as gingivitis or cavities are transferrable from person to person.
Periodontal disease, better known as gum disease, causes the gums to become inflamed. You may notice red, puffy, or tender gum tissue, and gums may bleed when you brush your teeth. Gum disease starts out as gingivitis, or gum inflammation, and can progress to severe gum disease if left untreated.
When gum disease manifests, it causes the supporting connective tissue that helps anchor your teeth in place to weaken because of infection and inflammation. As a result, teeth can become loose and even fall out when gum disease gets worse.
The most common causes of gum disease include smoking, poor oral hygiene, and hormonal changes (such as those seen in pregnancy).
But can the condition itself actually be contagious?
Gum disease happens because your body reacts to the bacteria that can cause gum disease. So while gum disease isn’t a condition that can be passed from person to person, the bacteria that are responsible for the development of the disease can.
You would be most susceptible to developing periodontal disease after sharing bacteria with someone who has the condition if you are already predisposed to the disease. For example, if you have poor oral health, a family history of periodontal disease, or already have gingivitis, it’s possible that you could develop full-blown gum disease from sharing saliva with a partner.
Are cavities contagious? The answer is yes.
Although cavities in and of themselves are not contagious, bacteria that cause cavities can be transmitted from one person to another via saliva, which can increase the risk of cavities.
One of these bacteria is called streptococcus mutans, or S. Mutans. Sharing spoons is one of the most common ways parents transmit this particular bacteria to their children, which can influence the development of tooth decay. Therefore, it’s essential for parents to maintain good oral health to reduce their child’s risk of tooth decay.
Other research shows that couples often share the same oral bacteria; therefore, if one has gum disease or tooth decay, the other may be more likely to have these same oral health problems, even if they have never had them before.
Since oral bacteria can be transmitted via saliva from one person to another, it’s important for everyone to maintain their oral health. People who have additional risk factors for developing cavities, such as a diet high in sugar, compromised tooth enamel, or poor oral hygiene may be even more at risk for developing cavities if they receive this bacteria from saliva transmission.
How to Keep Your Smile Healthy
Although sometimes it’s impossible to avoid sharing saliva with a partner—whether you kiss, share utensils or food, or take a sip from the same straw—it is possible to prevent any bacteria you may have come into contact with from affecting your oral health.
The best way to do this is to stay on top of your oral care routine. Brushing and flossing every day are a must to remove bacteria and plaque and protect your smile. Brush twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day—that’s all you need to do at home.
It’s also imperative to keep your regular dental visits with your dentist in Asheville. Every six months is recommended, but some people may need to come in more often depending on their unique oral health. If you have a high risk for cavities or gum disease, more frequent checkups may be necessary.
Other things you can do to keep your smile healthy if you believe you’ve swapped bacteria with a friend or partner include:
- Drink water. Water acts as a buffer between bacteria and your teeth and can prevent bad bacteria from affecting your smile. Stay hydrated and drink water throughout the day to avoid dry mouth, which is a risk factor for both tooth decay and gum disease.
- Keep a spare toothbrush. It’s best not to share toothbrushes with anyone, even if they are your family. If you need a new toothbrush or are traveling and have misplaced yours, keep a spare one in your purse, car, or bathroom so you don’t have to share with someone who may have contagious oral bacteria.
- Use mouthwash. Using mouthwash after sharing saliva with someone can help kill bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease and protect your smile.
Since your oral health can affect your bodily health and even your cognitive health, protecting your smile from disease can make a big difference in your overall wellness.
When Was Your Last Dental Checkup?
Tooth decay and gum disease are two oral health conditions that may not show noticeable symptoms early on, which is why getting regular checkups with your Asheville dentist is essential. When was your last dental checkup? Schedule an appointment with Saunders DDS today to check for cavities and gingivitis—catching these conditions early may just help save your smile!