How do genes affect oral health?
If you’ve been wondering if your genes play a role in your child’s oral health, the short answer is yes. Issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, tooth color, cleft lips or palates, oral cancer and misaligned teeth can be hereditary. But just because our genes may predispose us to certain conditions, it does not mean we will develop them. Environmental factors play a significant role, especially when it comes to tooth decay and cavities.
About 60% of the risk for tooth decay appears to be due to genetic factors, including:
- Our sweet preference and taste ability – these affect what foods we choose to eat most often. Those with a higher preference for sweets and limited taste ability may make poorer dietary choices than those with less of a preference for sweets and who eat a wider variety of foods.
- The strength of our tooth enamel, which determines how easy it is for harmful bacteria to erode enamel and cause tooth decay.
- Saliva production – saliva washes away bacteria and food particles in your mouth that can cause decay. If we are genetically predisposed to low saliva production, it can lead to cavities, decay, and gum recession.
- Our microbiome, which is made up of communities of bacteria on our tongue, the surface of our teeth and below our gum line. How our body reacts to these bacteria determines our risk of tooth decay.
What else plays a role?
If genes contribute to 60% of our cavities, what about the other 40%? This is where environmental and lifestyle factors come in to play: diet, proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits. The single biggest environmental factor found to encourage tooth decay is sugary drinks because they can spread sugar to every part of your mouth and feed the bacteria that cause decay.
What can we do to help?
How can we combat these risks? By brushing and flossing regularly, scheduling and keeping routine dental visits, and maintaining a diet low in sugary treats and drinks. The biggest environmental factor known to protect against tooth decay is fluoride, which can be easily found in our water supply, toothpaste and mouth rinses. Children and teens that are high-risk may also benefit from sealants and fluoride treatments applied at our office.
If you have a history of tooth decay, gum disease or other hereditary issues in your family, be sure to mention it to the dentist on your next visit. Don’t forget to keep your child’s routine dental visits every 6 months so they can have a healthy smile. Call our office today to schedule your next visit!
Sources: NIH Medliine Plus, NIDCR, American Dental Association, CNN Health