We’ve all heard about growing scientific evidence of the effects our genetic makeup may have on a predisposition for certain diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. But what about dental diseases? Have you inherited a genetic inclination for cavities, periodontal disease, crooked teeth, or oral cancer?
You might be surprised to learn what the latest studies have to say about the connection between your genes and your oral health. What part of your oral health is actually in your control?
Genes and cavities
Are genetics a significant factor when it comes to developing cavities? Yes and no. Cavities are caused by bacteria. Sugar in the foods we eat feed the different types of bacteria that live on our teeth. The acid these bacteria produce is what erodes enamel and causes cavities.
A recent study showed that although there was a genetic disposition to some types of tooth bacteria, these generally weren’t the ones associated with tooth decay. Instead, the types of bacteria that could form cavities were those influenced by controllable factors, like eating sugary foods.
However, genetics also affect such things as the strength of your tooth enamel and how much bacteria-fighting saliva you produce. If your family seems to have a high incidence of dental cavities, what can you do? Ask your dentist about protecting your teeth with dental sealants. These can give your teeth the extra protection they may need to fight off the damaging effects of decay.
In the final analysis of the question of “nature or nurture” when it comes to cavities, the likelihood of your getting a cavity is probably more largely affected by environmental factors and not your genes. The best way to prevent cavities is still the dentist-recommended routine of daily brushing and flossing and regularly scheduled hygiene visits.
Genes and gum disease
Gum disease is characterized by sensitive and inflamed gums and if left untreated, can result in tooth and bone loss.
While genetic factors are known to play a role in gum disease, a lot of research still needs to be done to understand all the factors involved in its development. Periodontitis is a complex chronic inflammatory disease which is affected not only by genetic risk factors but also environmental factors and lifestyle. Today, dentists recognize that while genetic factors may be involved, the biggest contributing factor to gum disease is still a lack of consistently good oral care.
Is gum disease a problem members of your family have struggled to control? It would be good to mention it to your dentist. Early diagnosis and treatment is still the best way to protect your gums and teeth.
Genes and misaligned teeth
If you need braces, you’re probably not the only one in the family. Genetics play a significant role in determining the size of your jaw and teeth. When the jaw doesn’t have sufficient room to accommodate a full set of teeth, it can cause crowding, gaps, overbites, and underbites.
If tooth misalignment is a common problem in your family’s dental history, be sure to tell your dentist and don’t wait to get orthodontic treatment for your child. The earlier the treatment, the better. Early treatment can allow developing bones and teeth to grow in properly and prevent more serious and costly problems later.
Genes and oral cancer
Thousands of Americans die from oral cancer each year. Although lifestyle choices, such as tobacco and alcohol use, are the top risk factors for oral cancer, genetics can also play a minor role. Individuals carrying certain genetic markers have been found to have a higher risk of developing the disease.
Most dentists routinely screen for oral cancer during a patient’s hygiene visit. They use special equipment that can detect early cancer lesions before they have an opportunity to develop any further. If your dentist does not offer this life-saving exam as part of their routine treatment exam, then be sure to ask about it.
Who should you blame?
When it comes to problems with your oral health, as we’ve seen, there are many factors involved. Some of them you can blame on the collective gene pool of your parents; for others, sorry to say, you can only blame yourself.
When it comes to your health, a proactive, preventive approach is always the best course to take. If you know of genetic factors that could affect your oral health, be sure to talk to your dental provider about them, and as for factors you can control, take advantage of these by practicing an excellent oral care routine.