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Saliva harbors cavity-causing bacteria, says ADA response to pacifier study

Should parents suck on a pacifier before baby in order to boost the child's bacterial diversity and foster immunity?

Not so fast, says the American Dental Association.

Licking a pacifier can transfer the cavity-causing bacteria from parents to children—increasing the possibility of tooth decay as they grow.

The ADA issued a statement May 6 in response to a study about the immunological benefits of adult saliva recently published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study "does not provide the full picture that adult saliva may also contain bacteria that causes decay," says the ADA.

"A child's teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they begin to erupt," said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Maine and a pediatric dental spokesperson for the ADA. "Cavity-causing bacteria, especially Streptococcus mutans, can be transferred from adult saliva to children, increasing their risk of getting cavities."

Sharing eating utensils with a baby, or the parent sucking on a pacifier to clean it, can also increase the likelihood of transmitting decay-causing bacteria.

There are other steps that parents can take to help children develop a healthy immune system, added Dr. Shenkin. 

"Breast milk is widely acknowledged as a good immunity-builder as well as the most complete form of nutrition for infants," he said. "This is something on which both the ADA and the AAP agree."

The ADA recommends that parents protect the dental health of young children by promoting a healthy diet, monitoring their intake of food and drink, brushing their teeth or wiping gums after mealtimes and by having infants finish their bedtime or naptime bottle before going to bed. The ADA recommends that children receive their first dental visit within six months of eruption of the first tooth and no later than 12 months of age. For more information, visit the ADA's consumer website, MouthHealthy.org.