How Does Genetics Affect Your Dental Health?
Learn how much your genes are to blame for your dental issues and everything you need to know about genetics and dental health
Have you ever wondered how much of your smile is genetic?
We all inherit traits like height, eye color, hair, and freckles from our parents and grandparents. But those aren’t the only things they pass down to us.
We can also inherit an increased risk of diseases and health conditions.
But do genetics play a role in the risk and development of dental health issues too?
As we’ll find out today, the answer is yes. But don’t go blaming mom and dad for all your dental health issues yet.
The real question here is: How big of a role does genetics play in our dental health?
And a reasonable follow-up question to that is: Can consistent dental care at home and at your San Diego dentist help offset any hereditary teeth problems?
We’re going to get to the bottom of both of these questions today and uncover some exciting facts about genetics and dental health that might surprise you.
Hereditary Teeth Problems
So, what sort of oral health hand-me-downs can you inherit from your ancestors?
As it turns out, they can pass down everything from the shape of your jaw to the protein content of your saliva.
Jaw Shape & Misaligned Teeth
If you have misaligned teeth - also known as malocclusion - it’s usually due to your jaw's shape, which is an inherited trait.
Malocclusion can make your bite uneven and your teeth overcrowded, leading to several dental health complications.
You may find it hard or uncomfortable to chew, and bacteria can take hold in the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies created by the overcrowded teeth, increasing your risk of tooth decay and cavities.
So, if you’ve ever dealt with misaligned teeth or had to get braces to correct them, you can thank dear old mom and dad.
But don’t be too hard on them. They inherited their teeth just like you!
When talking about genetics and dental health, cavities are by far the biggest elephant in the room.
Are some people more likely to develop cavities than others? If so, what genetic factors influence this?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), your enamel and dentin structure, immune system response, the content and amount of your saliva, and your natural oral bacteria all affect cavity development.
But as far as a direct genetic link that predisposes you to cavities, research results have been inconsistent.
The jury’s still out on this one, but current studies show that genetics play a partial role in cavity development, ranging anywhere from 20-85%.
Without any concrete answer, the moral of the story here is that it’s better to be safe than have cavities.
Protect your teeth as much as possible with regular trips to your San Diego dentist and proper hygiene at home.
Consistent dental care is one of the best ways to fend off cavities, whether they’re genetically motivated or not.
As stated by the ADA, part of the role genetics plays in cavity development is the makeup and amount of your saliva.
At the risk of throwing another fancy word at you, we’re going to talk about a process called amelogenesis.
This crucial dental process forms the dentin and enamel surrounding your teeth, and there are two types of proteins that help facilitate it.
Studies have shown that genetic factors can change the levels of these proteins, which can affect the size, shape, and color of your enamel.
So depending on your genetic makeup, your enamel may be weaker and more susceptible to developing cavities.
It’s also important to note that the amount of saliva your body produces is linked to cavity risk. Believe it or not, saliva does way more than help with chewing your food.
In fact, it performs several essential oral health-protecting duties. For one, when the foods and drinks you consume create an acidic environment in your mouth, your saliva steps in to balance out the pH levels.
Another important job your saliva performs is called remineralization. At the same time your saliva is balancing the pH levels in your mouth, it's also delivering vital minerals like fluoride, calcium, and phosphate to your teeth.
This process rebuilds and strengthens your enamel to counteract the breakdown that occurs when you eat or drink.
And to top it all off, your saliva also acts as a natural antibacterial cleanser. So as you can imagine, without saliva, your teeth would be in a lot of trouble.
Unfortunately, women naturally produce less saliva than men, so they’re automatically at a slight disadvantage.
And research shows that specific genes can reduce your saliva’s antibacterial qualities, leaving your teeth vulnerable to tooth decay.
To determine whether your teeth need extra care, your San Diego dentist can perform x-rays and in-depth examinations to check the strength of your enamel.
Depending on what they find, they may recommend a more rigorous home dental care routine and more frequent checkups to make sure your smile stays healthy.
With an ongoing battle against plaque and bacteria in your mouth, your immune system plays a huge role in guarding your teeth against intruders.
But immune deficiencies - both inherited and non-inherited - can hurt your body’s ability to fight off harmful oral bacteria.
When your immune system is weakened, tooth decay has an easier time setting up shop in your mouth.
So if you know you have an immune deficiency, talk with your dentist, and get proactive about protecting your oral health.
Similar to cavities, a direct genetic role hasn’t been defined for periodontal disease yet. But up to thirty-eight genes have been proven to be related to this harmful dental condition.
Also, the ADA states that genetics can affect the structural integrity of your teeth. And due to its close link with overall health, lifestyle factors like tobacco use and diabetes can greatly increase your risk of periodontal disease.
Perhaps the worst of our hereditary teeth problems, oral cancer is (thankfully) only influenced by genetic factors in a minor way.
People with certain genetic markers are at increased risk of developing the disease. But more often than not, lifestyle factors like tobacco use and drinking contribute the most.
Avoiding tobacco, cutting back on alcohol, and making healthy dietary choices can reduce your risk of both oral cancer and periodontal disease.
Of course, those recommendations are much easier said than done. But hey, we’re your friendly neighborhood San Diego dentist. We’re just looking out for you.
Here’s a Fun Bonus Fact
Alright, enough with all the doom and gloom. Harmful dental health issues aren’t the only thing we inherit from our predecessors.
Family members often share similar facial features thanks to the magic of genetics. But did you know that there may be a “family facial expression signature?”
A recent study compared the various facial expressions - concentration, joy, surprise, etc. - of a congenitally blind person with those of their family members and a number of strangers.
As surprising as it may sound, someone who had never seen before in their life made many of the same facial expressions that their family members made.
So, who’s to say we don’t inherit our smiles too?
Genetics and Dental Health
Genetics may only play a partial role in the development of dental health issues, but as you saw today, that little bit goes a long way.
The worst part about hereditary teeth problems is that for some of us, they’re unavoidable. And as fun as it might be, blaming mom and dad won’t keep your smile healthy.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on what you can control.
When you have genetic dental health issues, at-home dental care and regular visits to your San Diego dentist are even more critical to protect your oral health.
If you’re genetically predisposed to any oral conditions, Dental Express is here to help.
We’ll take your situation into account and develop a dental care plan as unique as you are.
Tackling any obstacles - genetic or otherwise - standing in the way of your ideal smile is what we do best.
If you’d like more information or to schedule an appointment, we have six locations in the San Diego area open six days a week. Give us a call or walk-in during office hours. We’d love to welcome you to the Dental Express family.