Tooth Trouble? Why That Kiss Could Be Risky

by Nancy Monson Health Writer

When it comes to attraction, there’s nothing less appealing than an unhealthy mouth. I recently went on a date with a man I met through an online dating service. From his profile, he seemed like a great guy, and handsome to boot, but when we met and he smiled, I was horrified: His teeth were yellow and actually rotted. I knew instantly that this man would never be kissing me.

The state of a person’s mouth can not only be a turnoff but can also pose health risks. HealthCentral spoke with Sanda Moldovan, D.D.S., a periodontist and oral health expert in private practice in Beverly Hills and New York City, about kissing and oral health.

Dr Moldovan
Oral health expert Sanda Moldovan, D.D.S.

Q. How do you spot an unhealthy mouth?

A. One clue is someone who doesn’t smile or who smiles with his mouth shut. Other clues are teeth that are broken, bad breath, inflamed gums, and black gaps in between the teeth where the gums are missing — that indicates periodontal (gum) disease.

Q. Can you get an infection by kissing someone with an unhealthy mouth?

A. The oral herpes simplex virus type 1, which causes cold sores (also called fever blisters), is an infection that can be transmitted by kissing if you have an open sore on your mouth. More than 50 percent of the population carries the oral herpes virus, but only about 10 percent get cold sores.

Oral herpes is very contagious when there are active blisters, so you shouldn’t share utensils, straws, or a toothbrush with someone who has a cold sore, and you shouldn’t kiss or have oral sex with someone who has one.

Dentists and doctors can prescribe antiviral drugs to speed the healing of cold sores, but they need to be taken within the first few hours of tingling, itching, and burning symptoms that signal blisters are about to erupt. The drugs don’t work once you have the sores.

Another virus that can spread through saliva is Epstein-Barr, which can cause infectious mononucleosis.

Q. On the flip side, what are the health benefits of kissing?

A. When we kiss, our bodies release the bonding chemical oxytocin and feel-good chemicals called endorphins. We also share the bacteria in our bodies, and the healthy bacteria can boost our immune systems.

Q. How can you make your own mouth more kissable?

A. Eat a healthy, low-sugar diet to prevent cavities and gum disease and inhibit the grow of bad bacteria. I also recommend a chewable probiotic that contains five Lactobacillus bacteria strains that have been shown to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria in the mouth.

You should floss and brush with an electric toothbrush twice a day, use a tongue scraper daily to remove dead cells and bacterial buildup, get regular cleanings, and see a dentist as needed.

If you have yellow or crooked teeth, you might also look into cosmetic dental procedures.

Q. Is it OK to loan your toothbrush to someone else?

A. That’s a great way to spread the bacteria and viruses in your mouth to someone else. You have a unique set of more than 500 different species of bacteria in your mouth. You’ve probably heard of the microbiome of the gut, right? Well, you also have a microbiome in your mouth, and scientists are just starting to research that now. You need to keep the good versus the bad bacteria in your mouth at a healthy level. You don’t need to get bad bacteria from other people.

In addition, if blood ends up on your toothbrush from someone who has hepatitis C, you can get that disease.

Nancy Monson
Meet Our Writer
Nancy Monson

Nancy Monson is a freelance writer and certified health coach. Her articles have been published in over 30 national magazines and newsletters, including AARP The Magazine, Family Circle, Shape, USA Today, Weight Watchers Magazine, and Woman’s Day. She is also the author of three books, including Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Crafts, which links creativity to well-being. Read more of her work on her website,, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @nancymonson.