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Mom's Decay-Causing Bacteria Could Be Trouble for Toddlers
March 6, 2014

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - Mothers with higher levels of decay-causing bacteria are more likely to have toddlers with tooth decay, says a new study.

It's the largest long-term study to show that a mother's bacteria levels can predict her child's risk of tooth decay. The study included 243 mother-infant pairs. Mothers joined the study during the second trimester of pregnancy. They were followed until their child's third birthday.

Most mothers in the study were Hispanic. They lived in a low-income community near the U.S.-Mexico border. Mothers were between the ages of 18 and 33.

Both mothers and children came to seven follow-up visits. At each visit, researchers took saliva samples. They also examined the mothers' and children's mouths for tooth decay, missing teeth and filled teeth.

All of the mothers had a history of tooth decay. More than half – 58% -- had untreated tooth decay at every follow-up visit. The mothers' saliva was tested for two types of bacteria that can cause tooth decay:

  • Mutans streptococci
  • Lactobacilli

By age 3, about 34% of the children had tooth decay. About 53% tested positive for mutans streptococci. Sixteen percent tested positive for lactobacilli.

Mothers with higher levels of mutans streptococci bacteria were more likely than those with low levels to have 3-year-olds with tooth decay. The researchers did not see an effect of higher lactobacilli levels.

Researchers also looked at interactions between the two types of bacteria. The highest risk of childhood tooth decay was seen in the children of mothers with high levels of mutans streptococci and low levels of lactobacilli. Risk of tooth decay was not as high if mothers had low levels of both types of bacteria.

Levels of mutans streptococci were four times as high in mothers of children with tooth decay as in mothers of children without tooth decay.

The researchers took many other factors into account, but the relationship between bacteria levels and tooth-decay risk did not change. The other factors included:

  • Household income
  • Mother's education
  • Language spoken at home
  • Whether the child went to day care
  • Whether the mother had other children
  • How often the child's teeth were brushed
  • Whether the child was breastfed, and how many months this occurred
  • How often the child was fed
  • Whether the mother shared eating utensils with the child
  • Whether the mother had tooth decay at the start of the study

The study was part of a larger trial that tested whether use of a mouthwash could lower bacteria levels. A random group of women was given an antibacterial mouth rinse to use every day for four months. Researchers did not see an effect of this mouth rinse on tooth-decay risk in the children.

Other studies have linked higher bacteria levels in mothers with greater risk of tooth decay in young children. The authors suggest taking early steps to reduce bacteria and decay in mothers.

The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

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