Q: My mom (Grandma) is always picking up my baby's pacifier off the floor and saying, "Five-second rule -- it's OK." It freaks me out. Is it safe? -- Paula P., Atlanta
A: Is there any science behind many moms' favorite germ-control method -- the five-second rule? Millions of parents, grandparents and legions of parenting gurus and doctors say there is. But we thought we might take a closer look, and you'll be surprised by what we found.
Even though you want to make sure your children's immune system develops properly (they need exposure to good and bad bacteria for that), too much of the five-second rule isn't healthy. It depends on what hit the ground (wet things like apple slices and pacifiers collect germs quickly; harder, dryer candies or crackers, not so much) and where it landed (the sidewalk is surprisingly clean, say researchers, while your kitchen floor may have bacteria from raw meat juices and other foods that can cause gastro-upset).
If nasty bacteria are lurking underfoot, it takes ingesting about 10,000 of them to get sick. Any fewer and the body usually fights them off rather easily. So, how soon can those 10,000 glom on to a dropped pacifier? In a flash -- whether it's been 1 second or 30 -- it's covered with bacteria. Picking it up and giving it a quick rinse under running water may reduce the amount to an acceptable level -- around 1,000; but sticking it in your mouth and then giving it back to your child just adds your bacteria to what came off the floor.
What you do NOT want to do is put hand sanitizer on the object. It's not made for mouths! Instead, travel with spare pacifiers and sippy cups; use water to rinse off food and objects when possible. Really stuck? Wipe it off with a paper towel and keep your fingers crossed!
Q: My son is 51⁄2, and he's started stuttering. My husband also stuttered as a child, but as an adult he speaks quite well. I know kids can grow out of it, but is this something we should be concerned about right now? -- Betty S., Kansas City, Mo.
A: Don't be too alarmed; stuttering affects 5 percent of kids between the ages of 2 and 6. And while you can't know for sure that your child will grow out of it, 80 percent of kids do within 12 to 24 months. Still, early intervention (if he's been stuttering for three months) is valuable. Therapy can help put his speech difficulties behind him sooner rather than later, and that can make him more self-confident and socially relaxed. That's important for his making friends, which is key for intellectual development. Kids need buddies to become healthy and smart.
Three things we do know about stuttering: It runs in families, it affects boys three times more often than girls, and it has a brain component. Scans of a brain area (the pars opercularis) that's important for speech show structural differences in some people who stutter. Therapy works by creating a neural workaround that reduces stuttering. It's most successful with young children who haven't learned that talking can be difficult or is a negative experience. (Although King George's later-in-life therapy certainly helped him.) A recent study from China suggests that specific kinds of retraining therapy can reorganize the brain and reduce stuttering at any age in as little as one week.
Advanced language and communication skills can be damaged if stuttering persists without treatment. So go for professional therapy early, and see your nearest medical center's developmental pediatrician and speech therapist. In the meantime, make sure you help him by talking to him slowly and clearly, and by expecting the same level of intellectual ability from him that you would from any child his age who doesn't stutter.
(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.)