All mothers know that they need to brush their baby’s milk teeth when they start to come through at the age of around six months old. But now scientists are urging parents to start caring for their gums much earlier, after finding hundreds of species of bacteria in the mouths of infants.
The study from the University of Illinois focused on babies who didn’t yet have any teeth, compared to most studies that looked at older children who already had dental cavities.
The team, led by Professor Kelly Swanson, used DNA technology to examine the whole population of bacteria in their mouths. They found it was far more diverse that suspected, making cavities more likely.
‘Like many other diseases, dental cavities are a result of many bacteria in a community, not just one pathogen,’ Prof Swanson said.
He added: ‘We now recognize that the ‘window of infectivity,’ which was thought to occur between 19 and 33 months of age years ago, really occurs at a much younger age.’
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends wiping the gums of babies without teeth, although the UK does not have similar guidance.
Parents are also advised to keep snacks and drinks with fermentable sugars to a minimum.
The findings are less likely to apply to babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months. This is because breast milk contains antibodies and antitoxins while infant formula can be quite sugary.
In the U.S 40 per cent of children have dental cavities by the time they are three.
Janet Clarke, a spokesperson for the British Dental Association, said: ‘The research looks interesting but further investigation is necessary to ascertain the significance of these findings.
‘The important issue for parents to remember is to minimize their baby’s exposure to sugary foods and drinks from the time they are weaned on to solids.
‘Ideally, it is best to avoid adding sugar to bottle feeds or drinks, however, the real danger to teeth arises from prolonged or frequent contact with sugar so sipping on sugary feeds or drinks for hours, or overnight, is a definite no-no.
‘Having a drink of juice from a cup in one sitting is better than sucking it over several hours from a bottle or carton because the mouth releases acid that causes decay for about 20 minutes after each sugar-eating episode.’