Will Fluoridated Water Lower My Child’s IQ?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband sent me a link to a Reuters press release with the following title:

Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ – Published in Federal Gov’t Journal

Husband and I have been interested in the fluoride controversy since we moved to Eugene, OR about a year ago. Our municipal water is not fluoridated, and natural levels are very low. Husband confirmed this when he called the water company to get their latest data on mineral composition in our city water. He makes his own beer, so these things matter to him on more than one level. Because our water is so low in fluoride and BabyC has a family history of tooth decay (me), we give her the pediatrician-recommended fluoride supplement. You can check the fluoride levels in your water supply using this CDC resource or contact your water company for what is likely a more up-to-date and accurate number.

Anyway, I keep seeing this story about fluoride and IQ posted on FB and other sites around the Internet, so I thought it was worth addressing in a blog post. Naturally, we parents worry about these things. Fluoride lowers children’s IQ? Yikes! What parents would knowingly give their child something that does that? And try to do a little research online about fluoride safety and you’ll find a range of “resources,” most of them with scary headlines like the one above.

Well, there are all sorts of problems with making decisions about your child’s health based on what you read on the Internet, and this story makes a very good case study. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Are Cavities Contagious from Mom to Baby?

You’ve heard the warning before: Don’t share saliva with your baby. No sharing utensils, food, or toothbrushes. No “cutting” grapes in half with your own teeth. No cleaning the crud off the corner of her mouth with a little spit on your finger. No blowing on your baby’s hot food or tasting it yourself first. All of these things can spread mama’s saliva to baby and infect her mouth with cavity-causing bacteria.

I’ve heard these warnings, but all I can say is, “Seriously?” In my mind, a little saliva-sharing between mom and baby is unavoidable. I have tried. It wasn’t too difficult for the first few months of BabyC’s life, but then she started fish-hooking my mouth with her finger while she nursed, and it’s been down hill over since.

So what’s the deal? Are cavities contagious? If so, what can we do about it?

Mutans streptococci

Bacteria that colonize the mouth cause cavities, or dental caries. Mutans streptococci (MS) are the most common bacteria implicated, but several other species are also associated with caries. The bacteria consume food particles, particularly sugar and starch, and produce acid, which causes demineralization of the tooth.

We aren’t born with bacteria-infested mouths – we have to be infected. Cavities are contagious in the sense that MS can be passed from mom’s saliva to baby’s mouth, where they quickly set up shop. MS is detected in some infants within the first few months of life, even before their first teeth erupt, and studies conducted in the 1980’s identified mom as the primary source of bacterial colonization in an infant’s mouth [1]. Of course, you’ve got to wonder if a bit of colonization blame has shifted towards fathers or other caregivers since the 80’s, since fathers are sharing more of the balance of childcare these days. Continue reading

What the Heck is Xylitol, and Will It Save My Baby’s Teeth?

Tooth brushing is not fun in our house these days. Twice per day, we go through this ritual of misery. Every once in a while, BabyC tolerates it while I sing a silly song or she brushes my teeth, but most of the time she fights off the toothbrush with all of her might. I know this stage will pass eventually. Regardless of how BabyC feels about it, I consider tooth brushing to be non-negotiable. I have had issues with cavities all of my life, and I want to save BabyC from the dentist’s chair as much as possible. If you need a healthy dose of fear on this topic, see this article from the New York Times.

Look at all those pretty little teeth!

One thing that has eased the struggle of brushing time just slightly is flavored toddler tooth gel. When we started brushing BabyC’s teeth, I didn’t understand why anyone would use this stuff. We just used water, and BabyC loved her toothbrush at first. And then one day, she hated it, especially when I insisted on brushing for her. I suddenly understood what the strawberry-banana flavored toddler tooth gel was all about.

As I shopped around for kids’ toothpaste, I found many that advertised xylitol as an active ingredient, particularly among the “natural” brands. I wondered: What is xylitol, and will it do anything to protect BabyC from tooth decay? Continue reading