Dogs, babies, and kisses—life does not get much better. But you might want to brush your teeth between kissing your dog and kissing your baby. A study this month in the journal Archives of Oral Biologyshows that oral bacteria, which can cause gum disease, can be exchanged between dogs and their owners.
Japanese researchers studied the dental plaque of dogs and their companions and looked for 11 species of bacteria that can cause gum disease. Overall, dogs and their human companions had different types of oral flora—bacteria that naturally lives in their mouths. But humans with close contact with their dogs were more likely to have the kind of gum-disease causing bacteria that dogs usually carry. The reverse was also true: Dogs with close contact with their human companions had more of the human-kind of oral bacteria.
So, if you kiss your dog, and you kiss your baby, here are some ways to keep the three of you healthy:
- Don’t let your baby and your dog smooch. I see many infants in the emergency room with dog bites to their face, and sewing up their tiny facial features is one of the saddest things I do. Even the friendliest of dogs can be aggravated by small faces. Of the 4.7 million Americans bitten by dogs annually, more than 50% are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For more information on keeping your child safe around a dog, see my related post.
- If you or your baby get an accidental scratch from your dog’s tooth, be sure to start antibiotics immediately. Bacteria from dogs’ mouths can cause severe skin infections and pus-pockets called abscesses. I’ve had to cut open these abscesses and drain the pus. It’s never nice, especially with a baby.
- Brush your baby’s teeth just as soon as her first tooth comes in with fluoride-free or reduced fluoride infant toothpaste. Before her first tooth, brush her gums with infant toothpaste. Children who are too young to know how to rinse and spit out toothpaste need to use reduced fluoride toothpaste to avoid ingesting high levels of fluoride, which can cause a variety of problems including white streaking in tooth enamel.
- Brush your own teeth, too! Preferably between kissing your dog and kissing your baby to avoid sharing all those doggy mouth bacteria with your baby.
- You and your baby need to get checked for gum disease by your dentist, preferably twice per year. Your baby should make her first trip to the dentist around the time her first tooth comes in, or at least by them time all her baby teeth come in. Don’t hesitate to bring her in earlier if she develops mouth sores, infections, or any other concerns. Your pediatrician can also treat most minor mouth concerns.
So kiss your dog, kiss your baby, but brush your teeth and don’t let your baby kiss your dog!