Can You Get Gum Disease From Kissing Someone?

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Q: Can you get gum disease from kissing? I'm worried that because I kissed someone who I know had bleeding gums that I might be at risk for periodontal disease, gingivitis, cavities, or any other mouth problems. Am I?

A: If you’re like most people, you’ve let your child use your fork or shared a water bottle with a friend (“You can have a sip as long as you’re not sick”). Maybe you’ve even shared a toothbrush with a partner.

But there’s something you need to be aware of.

A kiss can exchange up to 80 million bacteria.

It might sound like a schoolyard joke that you can get “cooties” from kissing, but let me perfectly clear on this one:

You can get gum disease from kissing, or even by sharing a drink or utensil.

It might seem harmless, but here’s why you’re putting yourself at risk:

The mouth contains a mixture of both good and bad bacteria, and those “bad” bacteria include the ones that cause cavities and gum disease.

Kissing someone who has gum disease or cavity-causing bacteria can cause someone else who previously had a low concentration of “bad” bacteria to “catch” dental problems, due to the increased concentration of “bad” bacteria — especially if that person has poor oral hygiene habits, which set the stage for tooth decay.

Periodontitis might be passed from parents to children and between romantic partners, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

“Bad” bacteria can be transmitted whether it’s just a quick sip from a drink or an intimate kiss. The saliva exchanged when sharing a drinking glass, utensils, or even a kiss can transmit the bacteria that cause gum disease and periodontal disease.

Given that half of adults over age 30 in the U.S. have some form of gum disease, I don’t recommend that anyone share saliva — even amongst family members, and especially not from parent to child.

Here’s the Good News:

Even if your kissing partner has gum disease, you don’t have to stop kissing to protect yourself.

Gum disease doesn’t occur the same way as the flu or an STI. That’s because gum disease isn’t just caused by the transmission of “bad” bacteria — it’s much more multi-factorial than that.

Gum disease can be caused by not only the presence of the “bad” bacteria, but also the poor oral hygiene habits that “set the stage” for dental issues, OR it can be caused by the presence of the “bad” bacteria along with a compromised immune system or an immune system that’s still developing, as is the case with children.

Just be extra sure that you are practicing good oral hygiene — that’s regular brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist regularly for a check-up and teeth cleaning.

What You Need to Know About Kissing Someone With Gum Disease:

If you’re a parent:

Don’t allow your children to share utensils, drinking glasses, or saliva in any way with other adults — including you. Even if you don’t have gum disease, their immune systems are still developing, and introducing adult bacteria into the mouth is no match for the bacteria in a child’s mouth, upsetting the flora in their mouth and making them prone to gum disease.

If you have bleeding gums or a gum disease diagnosis:

Don’t kiss children or people with a compromised immune system, canker sores, or open sores or wounds in the mouth. Do not share utensils, drinking glasses, or water bottles with children.

If you’re a dog-owner:

Every time you share a wet smooch with your dog, you’re swapping bacteria, and unless you’re flossing Fido’s teeth, those are gum-disease bacteria that you’re sharing.

If you have exchanged saliva with someone with poor oral hygiene:

Don’t worry — your immune system, if healthy and well, can handle this infection. Just because you got someone else’s bugs from kissing or sharing a drink doesn’t mean you will get gum disease. You can still protect yourself. Since the concentration of gum disease and cavity-causing bacteria is increased in your mouth, strong oral hygiene habits — that’s flossing, brushing and regular teeth cleanings — will be absolutely mandatory for you.

No matter who you’ve kissed, if you’re in the habit of flossing, brushing, and getting teeth cleanings regularly, then you are preventing gum disease every day.

So on that happy note, know the one you love!

Being both a good partner and a good parent includes having strong oral hygiene habits that will protect you both and set you both up to reap the benefits of good oral health — longevity, disease-prevention, and a better, more fulfilling life.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: The 12 Best Foods to Eat if You Have Gum Disease