Mothers transmit Candida albicans to infants

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Mothers with poor oral hygiene can pass on Candida albicans to their infants

A new study has highlighted the role of maternal oral health in the oral health of children. (Image: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock)

NEW YORK, US/KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait: Research has demonstrated the link between Candida albicans and severe early childhood caries. However, although C. albicans starts colonising the mouth from birth, it is unclear what role mothers play in transmitting this pathogenic fungus to their offspring. A recent study conducted at universities in the US and Kuwait suggests that infants are more likely to inherit C. albicans from their mothers if maternal dental hygiene is lacking.

In the study, the researchers investigated 160 mother–child dyads between 2017 and 2020. They collected saliva and plaque samples from the participants at eight visits, over a period covering pregnancy, the time of birth and up to when the child turned 2 years old.

The findings showed that about 58% of the mother–child pairs had C. albicans in their samples. In 94% of instances where both a mother and child had C. albicans in their mouths, the strains were very similar genetically. The researchers also found that women with higher loads of dental plaque were eight times more likely to transfer C. albicans to their babies than those with lower scores.

The researchers did not investigate exactly how the yeast is transferred to infants. However, they hypothesised that babies may be exposed during delivery, through skin-to-skin contact or through feeding.

Additionally, the researchers examined the feeding practices of the mothers, such as exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive bottle-feeding and a combination of both. They reported that night-time bottle-feeding was significantly higher in the C. albicans-positive group at 2 months. They also found that Black infants and children who attended daycare had an increased risk of acquiring C. albicans.

In light of the results, the researchers believe that it is important to offer mothers oral health education programmes during pregnancy and after giving birth to reduce the likelihood of transmitting C. albicans to their infants in early pregnancy.

Further research will involve following up on the children as they grow older to see how their C. albicans levels change and whether they develop dental caries.

The study, titled “Multilocus sequence typing of Candida albicans oral isolates reveals high genetic relatedness of mother-child dyads in early life”, was published online on 17 January 2024 in PLOS ONE.

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