GENETICS AND YOUR TEETH

What if I told you that no matter how frequently you brushed and flossed your teeth, you might still be at high risk for developing dental decay and gum disease? For some people this is the case. On the other hand, there are people who are not very consistent or thorough with oral hygiene, yet they never seem to have cavities or gum issues. How is this possible? A growing body of evidence indicates a link between genetics and susceptibility to oral disease. In order to explain how genetics plays a role in oral health, let’s first take a look at how genes work altogether.
Genes consist of DNA that codes for specific traits in humans. A unique set of genes are passed down from parents to offspring, creating unique individuals despite sharing DNA similarities with our parents.  For example, there are specific genes that code for eye color, so an individual can express eyes of blue, green, or brown depending on their inherited genes for eye color.

Studies have shown that genes may influence the following oral health factors:

  • The type of bacteria found in the mouth, including decay-causing Streptococcus mutans
  • Colonization and dominance of oral bacteria
  • Salivary flow rate and pH
  • Appetite and dietary preferences (e.g., drive for sugar intake)
  • Immunological response to oral pathogens
  • Malalignment of teeth

Mutation of normal genes is another, albeit different pathway, by which genetics can influence our teeth and oral health. Genetic mutations usually develop in teeth and/or oral structures and produce abnormal growth, with some conditions requiring extensive treatment and maintenance.
According to some research, the genes that increase risk for oral diseases, just like the genes for eye color, are familial (passed from parents to children). Children with high rates of dental caries often have one or more parents with similar problems and tend to have siblings with tooth decay.
Knowing your inherent risk for dental disease is important in developing your oral hygiene routine and can help your dentists provide individualized care for you and your family. As dental practitioners, understanding the role of genetics helps us focus more attention on preventative measures for patients who are more susceptible to developing oral disease.