Health classes and PSAs have hammered it home that getting hot and heavy has its dangers. Swapping bodily fluids puts you at risk of catching (or transferring) an STD or STI.
But as it turns out, an STD isn’t the only thing you could catch from your most recent fling. It could actually send you to the dentist’s chair.
The Not-So-Sexy Side Of Smooching
It’s fairly common knowledge that when we swap spit with a kiss, we’re swapping germs. If you kiss someone who’s sick, then you’ll likely get sick, too.
The pandemic has practically made us experts on the germy nature of our bodily fluids. But until a 2014 study, we knew less about just how much stuff we’re swapping besides spit.
The study found that we transfer as many as 80 million bacteria during a ten-second kiss. In fact, couples who kiss at least nine times a day have similar oral microbiota even while not kissing.
This bacteria transfer is why we can transmit CMV, herpes, and syphilis via kissing alone. (Bleh.)
But it’s not just STD-causing bacteria you’re trading with your boo. It’s also the bacteria that causes cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. (Double bleh.)
Cavities, Decay, And Gum Disease (Oh, My!)
“Cavities are caused by a specific series of ‘bad bacteria’ that go unchecked,” Tina Saw, D.D.S., told Shape. The bacteria produce acid, which then breaks down the teeth.
So, if your partner transfers that bacteria to you mid-kiss, that bacteria can latch onto your teeth and start the same process. Even those with excellent oral hygiene, Saw explains, are at risk of exposure to cavity-causing germs.
Poor oral hygiene can also lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. And just like cavities, the bacteria that promotes plaque build-up can transfer via kissing.
Finally, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. This gum disease is irreversible and closely linked to our immune systems.
“[Periodontal disease] is caused by a combination of the body’s immune system trying to fight off bacterial infection and the bacteria themselves,” Shape reports. The disease does more than wear away enamel; it wears away gum and bone.
And if that wasn’t enough to make you want to never kiss anyone again ever, periodontal disease has also been linked to diabetes, heart and lung disease, and Alzheimer’s. Uh… not hot.
Is A Kiss A Cavity Waiting To Happen?
This dental dilemma is “surprisingly common,” Shape writes. “Especially when dating new partners.” Periodontist Yvette Carrilo, D.D.S., told Shape that she looks into patients’ dating histories when they come in with sudden gum tissue breakdown.
Luckily, it’ll take a little bit more than one make-out sesh to get a cavity. A lot of it depends on your oral hygiene and immune system.
For example, to develop periodontal disease, “you must have periodontal pockets,” Sienna Palmer, D.D.S., says. These pockets are “spaces between the gum tissue and the root of the tooth caused by an inflammatory response.”
You’re also at greater risk if you’re immunocompromised. Conversely, if you have a healthy immune system, you’re likely not to catch periodontitis from your partner.
Ultimately, everyone’s level of risk is different. “Everyone’s oral environment is unique,” Palmer explains. “You may have tight, healthy gum tissue, smoother tooth surfaces, less root exposure, shallow grooves, or more saliva. This would decrease your chance of developing oral diseases.”
Is There A Way To Avoid This Dental Dilemma?
Mouth condoms? Sexy mouthwash? Maybe you could trick your partner into brushing their teeth pre-make-out sesh as this woman did with handwashing.
Few things kill the mood quite like gingivitis. And if everyone’s risk is different, how do we know we’re not vulnerable to oral disease? A life without kissing seems pretty bleak. So, what can we do to avoid this issue?
Nehi Ogbevoen, D.D.S., said, “It comes down to the ‘bad’ bacteria from the other person, and said bacteria must be able to multiply to actually infect our gums and teeth. As long as you brush and floss as recommended, you shouldn’t have to worry.”
To put your mind a bit at ease, Ogbevoen also says the odds of losing a tooth from kissing are “essentially zero.”
Essentially, your basic oral routine should help prevent cavities and other oral diseases. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss regularly and use mouthwash.
If avoiding oral disease (and hefty dentist bills) isn’t motivation enough, then think of it this way: our bodies are naturally inclined to kiss those with healthy mouths.
“The reason you usually aren’t excited about kissing partners with foul-smelling breath is that, biologically, you know bad-smelling breath is associated with the replication of ‘bad’ bacteria that could harm your oral health,” Ogbevoen explains.
While swishing Listerine might not scream ‘romance,’ it very well could be the sexiest thing you can do for you and your partner.