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Letters: Pacifiers and bacteria

August 19, 2013

The article "Saliva Harbors Cavity-Causing Bacteria, Says ADA Response To Pacifier Study" (May 8 ADA News) responds to the article in Pediatrics "Pacifier Cleaning Practices and Risk of Allergy Development" by Hesselmar et al. The study observed the outcomes of mothers using their mouths to clean their infant's pacifier thereby exposing them to their saliva prior to 6 months. Their goal was to measure for immunological benefit of the habit: clinical allergy and sensitization to airborne and food allergens at 18 and 36 months of age and, in addition, on occurrence of symptoms against asthma. This was a prospective, case controlled study. They found that the exposed infants in the habit/exposure cohort did demonstrate a health benefit from compared to the infants who were not exposed by the habit.

Studies have established that common child-care habits (e.g., licking pacifiers, licking their finger to clean around the child's mouth, sharing feeding utensils) do pass harmful bacteria from caregiver to their very young children.

The fact is that these habits do happen and will continue in the real world. The important observation is that a caregiver can limit the passing of their harmful (caries causative) germs by having a good oral health practice: brushing their teeth several times daily and especially before bedtime, limiting harmful diet habits and drinking water several times daily, especially after meals. Additionally, having completed dental care (no unfilled cavities and good gingival health) also limits the passing of harmful bacteria for mouth problems to their children.

The second step to protect children is to establish a dental home with supportive mentoring of caregiver oral health literacy and protective child care as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Fred Ferguson, D.D.S.
Professor of Pediatric Dentistry
Director, Pediatric Dentistry and Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry
Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry
Stony Brook, N.Y.