It has been thought that infection-causing bacteria develops in the mouth during early childhood, or at the earliest, when infants start developing teeth (usually around 4-6 months). However, a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and two research institutes in Lubbock, Texas has found that bacteria develops in infants BEFORE they start to sprout teeth, including Streptococcus mutans bacteria.
This in effect means that dentists and parents need to adopt new strategies when it comes to preventing cavities in their young children.
“We want to characterize the microbiological evolution that occurs in the oral cavity between birth and tooth eruption, as teeth erupt, and as dietary changes occur such as breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, liquid to solid food, and changes in nutrient profile,” explained Kelly Swanson, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Animal and Nutritional Sciences.
As a result, this could reopen up the debate on breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, when it is best to introduce infants to solid food, and what solid foods babies should be initially introduced to. But we’ll have to wait and see what future research proves in regards to feeding habits and how it affects bacteria pre-baby teeth.
However, it does strongly back up what pediatricians and pediatric dentists have been saying for years. Bottle-feeding should stop at the latest at 14 months, and parents should never let their babies sleep with bottles. Sleeping with a bottle that contains milk or formula will prolong exposure to sugars in the baby’s mouth, which will trigger bacteria development–bacteria just love to eat sugar–and start tooth decay. Most importantly, even when there are no baby teeth present, you should always clean your baby’s gums twice a day with a cloth or a special baby toothbrush–such as a finger toothbrush.
Even if your dentist is not a specialized pediatric dentist, you can always ask about best practices for your baby’s dental health. Your dentist may not be able to see your infant in a scheduled office visit, but he or she will always have dental care advice.