Blog Hero

Are Cavities Contagious?

Book Your Appointment
A woman suffering from a toothache holds her right cheek with her right hand.

Cavities are one of the most common dental problems that affect millions of people around the world. They’re holes in your teeth caused when bacteria create an acid that erodes your enamel. Everyone, from young children to older adults, can develop cavities.

Wait! Since we’re talking about bacteria, you may wonder if cavities can spread from person to person. The answer is more complex than you may think! While cavities themselves aren’t contagious, you may be able to pass the bacteria that causes cavities through saliva. This makes dental hygiene important for you and your loved ones.

What Are Cavities?

Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are tiny holes in your teeth. They’re primarily caused by the buildup of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. Plaque breaks down sugars in the food we eat and produces acids that eat away at the enamel, the hard outer layer of teeth.

If left untreated, cavities can cause serious damage to teeth and lead to further problems like infections, gum disease, or tooth loss.

A combination of factors is behind cavity development, including poor oral hygiene, a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, and a lack of fluoride. Cutting out sugar and carbs gives the bacteria in plaque less to munch on meaning they produce less acid. Meanwhile, fluoride can make teeth more resistant to decay, while a lack of it can weaken the enamel.

Symptoms of Cavities

The most common signs and symptoms of cavities include:

  • Tooth sensitivity to temperatures and sweetness
  • Visible holes or pits in the teeth
  • Toothaches
  • Black or brown enamel staining

Contact your dental professional if you notice any of these symptoms. A dentist typically treats the cavity by removing the decayed part and filling the hole with a dental filling. There are many options for fillings, including silver amalgam, composite resin, or porcelain.

How Can Cavities Spread?

Cavities themselves aren’t contagious. Everybody has some amount of bacteria in their mouths and you can’t technically “catch” a cavity like you would a cold. However, this bacteria can indeed spread through saliva, so you could be more likely to develop the same type of bacteria as someone with a cavity if you come in contact with their saliva.

Sharing utensils or kissing someone is unlikely to cause a problem for adults who are maintaining their oral hygiene, but it’s not impossible.

What’s much more common is cavity bacteria transferring to infants and children. Young kids are much more susceptible to foreign bacteria. Often, you can trace a child’s cavity back to their parent or caregiver. One common scenario is a parent testing the temperature of a baby’s food with their own mouth, then using the same utensil to feed their child.

Try to avoid tasting your child’s food before feeding it to them, if only to help prevent inadvertently spreading germs and affecting your child’s oral health. It’s impossible to prevent all bacteria from getting into your child’s mouth—just ask any parent—so take the time to help them practice good oral hygiene.

Assist your kids with brushing their teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled brush. It can also be helpful to rinse their mouths with water after eating to wash away sugars and harmful bacteria.

Preventing Cavities

The good news is that cavities are almost always preventable. Rather than letting cavities do their damage, you can stop them in their tracks with oral hygiene. Follow these tips to help protect your oral health:

  • Brush your teeth for 2–3 minutes twice daily to help clean away cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Flossing daily to get into places your toothbrush can’t reach. Focus on removing bacteria and plaque hiding beneath the gum line.
  • Using mouthwash, also called an oral rinse, once a day can help wash away bacteria that cause cavities and odours.
  • Drink plenty of water to help keep your mouth hydrated, neutralize acids, and wash away food particles.
  • Eat healthy and avoid sugary snacks and drinks. Sugary and acidic foods and drinks, such as soda, candy, and chips, can lead to the buildup of plaque on your teeth.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption can lead to dry mouth, which reduces saliva flow and increases your risk of cavities.
  • Quit smoking and vaping. Smoking can damage the gums, reduce saliva flow, and lead to dry mouth.
A young woman sitting in a dental chair and pointing to something displayed on a tablet as her dentist holds the tablet and smiles

Protect Your Family’s Oral Health

Cavities might not be contagious, but the bacteria that cause them can spread through saliva. And while this could be negligible for adults, young children are at risk. Fortunately, you can protect yourself and anyone else you happen to share saliva with by brushing, flossing, and scheduling regular professional cleanings.

When plaque turns to tartar, it takes a dental professional to clean it. And when decay becomes a cavity, you can turn to our team at Shawnessy Dental. Quick treatment can help you avoid future dental problems and keep your smile bright for all to see. 

Don’t let things get out of hand. Good oral health is just a click away. So, book your appointment today and we’ll see you smiling soon here in Calgary!

instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star-half star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax