In the last 100 years, the rate of kids with allergies has risen to an alarming 1 in 3 in developed countries.
The lineup of culprits questioned to explain this dramatic rise include: increased contact with synthetic chemicals, bioengineered foods, pollutants, diesel smoke, chlorine from swimming pools and other possible instigators.
Recent research on this topic was published May 6 in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The paper’s conclusions have sucked some academics in the dental community into a spirited debate with their medical colleagues.
The Journal stated that based on the results of a Swedish study of 184 infants, “Parental sucking of their infant’s pacifier is associated with reduced risk of allergy development and an altered oral flora in their child. Transfer of oral microbes from parent to infant via the pacifier might be used in primary prevention. ... Infants with a diverse gut microbial flora are less likely to develop eczema and allergy.”
So a respected medical journal is telling parents to pick up a dropped soother, pop it in their own mouth to “clean” it and then place it back in baby’s mouth? This advice seems counterintuitive, to say the least.
Perhaps you have heard of the Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory was advanced in the British Medical Journal in 1989 by David Strachen. His research found that kids who come from larger families have fewer allergies than those from small families, presumably because larger families share more microbes and minor infectious agents.
The broader theory that resulted from this research is if parents don’t allow their kids enough contact with, well, basically dirt, youngsters are more likely to develop asthma, allergies, eczema, etc.
Apparently you can have too clean an environment. So large families, crowded housing, early contact with pets and farm animals, as well as early exposure to foodborne microbes are associated with a reduced risk of allergy development, as reported in the AAP Journal.
The immune system needs to be challenged at an early age. Left idle with no germs to attack, the immune system will start to assault its host body, resulting in allergies.
Two additional highlights from the Swedish study:
Breast-fed infants have fewer allergies than those who are bottle-fed.
And natural childbirth results in children with significantly less eczema than C-sections, presumably because C-section babies didn’t come in contact with naturally occurring microbes in the birthing process.
The study suggests C-section babies should be introduced to probiotics as early as is practical.
Why are dentists concerned with these findings?
Dentists know that along with transferring friendly mouth microbes from parent to child, “cleaning” the soother by sucking on it will also transfer the harmful bacteria that cause cavities.
If parents have had problems with decay, they shouldn’t lick the pacifier clean or feed a child from their spoon.
It should be noted that dental decay also is a serious disease and is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than allergic rhinitis.
Keep in mind that if parents are prone to cold sores, they can transfer this virus to a child via the pacifier as well!
So what’s a conscientious parent to do?
The implications of this study are that it’s better to have a relaxed parenting style. Allowing your child to “explore” her environment without being constantly spritzed with a disinfectant is healthier in the long run. Take your child to a petting zoo and leave the Germ-x at home.
And despite what we dentists think, evidently sucking on a child’s soother isn’t the end of the world. Regular cleanings and checkups are more important to long-term dental health than the occasional soother covered in a mother’s saliva.
In short, parents should be, well, less conscientious.
Dr. Eric Gustavsen practices dentistry at Southpoint Dental Center, 1129 S. Second Ave. More information on his practice can be found at www.southpointdentalcenter.com.