Genetics and Your Oral Health

Your parents may have given you more than just your eye color and your sense of humor: you also may have inherited an increased risk for dental problems. Yes, dental issues can run in the family, and it’s not just because you’ve learned bad habits from your family, or passed on oral bacteria by sharing silverware. Many oral health conditions have a hereditary basis. That means you may be at higher risk for developing certain conditions, in spite of your habits. Strong teeth, weak teeth, big teeth, small teeth, crooked teeth, susceptibly to cavities, and even the potential to develop gum disease can be passed down from generation to generation. Although genetics plays a role in the state of your oral health, it doesn’t have the final word. We take a look at what oral issues can be caused by genetics.

Periodontal (gum) disease

Gum disease is significantly linked to genetic factors.  Up to 30 percent of the population may be genetically predisposed to gum disease. Characterized by sensitive and inflamed gums, this common problem is linked to decay and when left untreated, can result in tooth and bone loss. Early diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in protecting your gums and teeth. A study that pinpointed a genetic variation connected to cavities also found one specific gene that when activated, increases the risk of gum disease by as much as 70 percent. You can also be at an increased risk of gum disease if you have family history of weakened immune defenses or poor immune response mechanisms. Is gum disease a problem your family members have struggled with? Make sure to mention it to your dentist.

Tooth decay

Increased susceptibility to cavities is a common trait passed down from generation to generation. Certain variations of the gene beta-defensin 1 (DEFB1) are linked to a greater risk of cavities in permanent teeth. If your teens are at high risk for cavities, talk to their dentist about sealants and fluoride treatments. Adults with a high risk of tooth decay may benefit from prescription toothpastes or mouth rinses. Make sure to visit the dentist for frequent cleanings and exams. If left untreated, tooth decay can aggravate gum disease and eventually cause tooth loss. Other genetically linked factors that raise the risk of cavities include low mineral saliva (unable to fight off acid erosion) and poorly aligned teeth (difficulty cleaning between teeth).

Oral cancer

This deadly disease is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans every 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. People carrying certain genetic markers have been found to have a higher risk of developing the disease. You can lower your risk by quitting tobacco, cutting back on alcohol and eating a balanced diet.

Misaligned teeth

If you need braces, you’re probably not the only one in the family. Genetics play a major role in determining the size of your jaw. This, in turn, can cause crowding, gaps, overbites and under bites. If tooth misalignment is a common problem in your family, don’t wait to find an orthodontist for your child. Early orthodontic treatment can benefit many young patients, allowing developing bones and teeth to grow in properly and prevent more serious problems down the road.

Cleft lip or cleft palate

A common birth defect, cleft lip or palate occurs when the sides of the lip and roof of the mouth don’t fuse together properly. Genetics can be a factor: a family history of cleft lip or palate increases a child’s risk of developing one. When a baby inherits a cleft-causing gene from either their mother or father, this genetic component – along with an environmental trigger – can interfere with the proper formation of the baby’s lip. Sex and race can also play a role: male children are twice as likely to develop a cleft lip than female children. The condition is statistically more common in Asian and Native American babies, while clefts are least likely to be seen in babies with African Americans parents. Parental obesity and diabetes are thought to further increase the risk of cleft lip and palate.

Do you have any questions about genetics and oral health? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.