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Dental Health: After a Caesarean Birth, Watch Your Child's Mouth

Babies born by Caesarean section appear to be more prone to infection with cavity-causing bacteria than those who pass through the mother's birth canal, new research suggests.

Babies' mouths are sterile when they are born, but they soon become colonized with bacteria, most of them beneficial in developing immunities and excluding harmful germs.

But researchers have found that one species of bacterium responsible for tooth decay, Streptococcus mutans, appears a year earlier, on average, in the mouths of babies born by Caesarean. Earlier colonization with the bacterium has been linked to increased tooth decay.

The findings were published in the September issue of The Journal of Dental Research.

The researchers followed 156 mothers and their babies for four years. Babies delivered vaginally were almost 29 months old, on average, before the harmful bacterium appeared in their saliva.

Among babies born by Caesarean, the bacterium appeared after about 17 months on average.

Prolonged gestation and levels of S. mutans higher than normal in the mother also correlated with earlier appearance of the bacterium in babies.

Dr. Yihong Li, the lead author on the study and an associate professor of dentistry at New York University, advised that women who undergo Caesarean sections, particularly those who themselves have had problems with cavities, should have their babies' teeth checked as early as possible.

Further, Dr. Li said, the mothers should pay close attention to their own oral health.

The researchers suggest that vaginally delivered babies come into contact with more beneficial bacteria during birth than those born by the relatively sterile Caesarean procedure, offering them some protection against the appearance of the S. mutans bacterium.

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