Genetics and Your Oral Health

Have you ever heard that oral health is genetic? My mom has always had issues with her teeth, and has required quite a bit of dental work as she’s aged. Whenever I’ve had an issue, I’ve always blamed her, or her genes to be more specific. But how true is it? Are some of predisposed to poor dental health based on our genetics?

According to an article from CNN, scientists claim that the health of your teeth depends on a combination of dental hygiene and genetics. This means that there are some people who brush and floss regularly and visit their dentist bi-annually, but still end up with cavities. Actually, studies have shown that about 60% of the risk for tooth decay appears to come from genetic factors.

Genetic dentistry is still a relatively new field, but scientist have already identified five areas where genes play a role in tooth decay.

Your Sweet Tooth

Believe it or not, not everyone loves sweets the same. Gene variants that show a range of “sweet preference” have been identified. All other factors being equal, the stronger sweet preference you have, the higher your risk of developing tooth decay.

Tooth enamel

Some people simply have softer tooth enamel than others. The softer the enamel, the more susceptible you are to cavities, and genes are responsible for enamel structure.

Taste ability

A recent study identified a gene variant for the ability to enjoy cilantro, a popular herb used in common Asian and Latin American cooking. “Taste ability’ is the measure of the variety of things you can taste, not just whether you are genetically wired to enjoy certain flavors. This is a complex process that involves both your tongue and your sense of smell. Studies have shown that the greater the variety in your genetic taste ability profile, the less likely you are to develop tooth decay.

Saliva strength

Your saliva plays a big role in metabolizing elements that are crucial for strong teeth, like calcium, potassium and more. Scientists have found that gene variants can lead to some people being better at this than others.

Microbiome

Your microbiome is made up of a number of communities of bacteria that live in your body. In your mouth alone, there are several of these communities: on your tongue, on the surface of your teeth, and below your gum line to name a few. Your body’s immune response reacts to these communities, affecting a number of things, including the development of tooth decay.

The other 40%

While genetics is responsible for approximately 60% of your oral health, while the remaining 40% is left to environmental factors. This includes diet, brushing frequency, smoking habits, dental care access, culture and even socioeconomic factors. But the single biggest environmental factor identified by scientists that encourages tooth decay is the consumption of sugary drinks. On the flip side of that coin, the single biggest environmental factor known to protect against tooth decay is fluoride. Whether it comes from your drinking water, your toothpaste, or dental treatments, it’s crucial to get it somewhere.

You may not be able to control your genetic predisposition to developing tooth decay, but you certainly can do your best to control the environmental factors. Follow a good dental hygiene plan (brush, floss and visit your dentist regularly) and eat a well-rounded diet rich in nutrients and minerals. Avoid excessive alcohol and tobacco use. And don’t forget to smile!

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