Streptococcus Mutans and Your Baby’s Oral Health

There’s no doubt babies are kissable, but there’s good reason to take pause before you pucker up. Kissing your baby on the lips may increase their baby’s chances of developing cavities.  Parents who share food, drinks, cups and utensils with their babies may also increase the baby’s chances of developing cavities.  That’s because bacteria from the parent’s mouth called mutans streptococci (MS), is considered to be the principal indicator of bacterial organisms responsible for dental cavities. We take a look at what streptococci mutans are and how they affect your baby’s oral health.

What is Streptococcus Mutans?

Streptococcus mutans (also known as “S. mutans”) is the main contributor to decay and the breaking down of your tooth enamel, and is found on most tooth surfaces – especially the difficult areas to clean like pits and fissures. Because cavities are the most common chronic disease in children and adolescents, understanding the science behind the causes will help your family prevent them. Streptococcus mutans is one type of bacteria associated with tooth decay and can build up on the surfaces of the teeth at any age – from infancy, before baby teeth erupt, to those who’ve had their adult teeth for decades. The key to preventing the resulting cavities is to effectively control the environment where the bacteria lives – which can include the gum line in decay’s later stages – and to remove or disrupt the bacterial plaque that accumulates on a regular basis. It sounds simple, but cavities remain a largely misunderstood disease despite their prevalence.

How does a mother spread it?

Tooth decay is a bacterial infection. Infants aren’t born with the bacteria that cause decay. Most acquire these bacteria from their mothers before their third birthday. These bacteria can pass from person to person through the transfer of saliva. The passing of MS bacteria from mother to child is called vertical transmission. Tooth decay is a bacterial infection that can spread through saliva from the mother to the child just as a cold or flu virus would spread. The higher the levels of MS in the mother’s mouth, the greater the risk of transferring it to infants through kissing on the mouth and sharing food or drink.  For this reason, it’s important that moms routinely visit the dentist and takes care of her teeth and gums. But once MS is in the baby or child’s mouth, the teeth are susceptible to decay.


How can vertical transmission be prevented?

To prevent vertical transmission of bacteria from mother to child, the following is recommended:

  • It is very important that mothers, mothers-to-be, and fathers take care of their oral health.  This includes routine visits to the dentist, and brushing with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Routinely visiting the dentist for professional dental care allows mothers to optimize her oral health.
  • Have an oral evaluation during pregnancy for preventive and therapeutic oral healthcare.
  • Avoid salivary contact from kissing on the lips, and sharing cups, utensils and food.
  • Parents should not clean a dropped pacifier by mouth.
  • Take care of your child’s teeth and gums by routinely brushing and flossing, limiting foods and sweetened beverages to meal time and routinely visiting a pediatric dentist.
  • Keep infants mouth clean even if teeth haven’t erupted yet.  Keep the mouth clean by rubbing a washcloth or finger brush against the gums.

Research has shown that pregnant women and new mothers who use products that contain xylitol can reduce the number of decay-causing bacteria in their mouths. You need to use the products every day for months for them to work. Xylitol-sweetened foods, candies and toothpaste can be found in health food stores and online stores.

Do you have any questions about streptococcus mutans? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.