Oral bacterial levels of 46 mother-child pairs were monitored from infant birth up to five years of age so that the acquisition of mutans streptococci (MS) by children could be studied. The initial acquisition of MS occurred in 38 children at the median age of 26 months during a discrete period we designated as the “window of infectivity”. MS remained undetected in eight children (17%) until the end of the study period (median age of 56 mo). The levels of both MS and lactobacilli in saliva of mothers of children with and without MS were not significantly different. Comparisons between a caries-active cohort colonized by MS (nine of 38) and children without detectable MS revealed similar histories in terms of antibiotic usage, gestational age, and birth weight. Interestingly, half of the children between the ages of one and two years who were not colonized by MS were attended by caretakers other than the mother, while all of the caries-active children during this same time period were cared for by their mothers; the difference was statistically significant. Here we report for the first time that MS is acquired by infants during a defined period in the ontogeny of a child. Support for the notion of a discrete window of infectivity comes from other sources, including animal models.
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