Does Oral Health Run In The Family?

Often times when we experience some form of medical issue, one of the first things we consider is looking to our family history for signals that our issue is genetic. We know that genetics define a lot of aspects of who we are - our hair color, our eye color, even some of our personal traits, and our risks of herditary diseases, but do they determine our dental health? 

Well the short answer is both yes and no. Many parts of our oral health are linked to genetics, but we can't attribute ever aspect of our healthy or unhealthy smile to our DNA and family. There are definitely some known areas that family genetics can take effect though, so we've listed them out for you below. 

Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Periodontal disease is characterized by inflamed, sensitive gums and it's a common problem that is linked to teeth decay, and when left untreated, can result in complete tooth and bone loss. Periodontal disease might be associated with the FAM5C gene. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine researchers found higher levels of the FAM5C activation in areas of disease gum tissue rather than in healthy gum tissue. This suggests a possible link between the gene expression and periodontal health. 

Those with weakened or poor immune systems are also more susceptible to gum disease because their bodies have a harder time fighting off the bacteria.

Early diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in protecting your gums and teeth. Is gum disease a problem your family members have struggled with? Make sure to mention it to your dentist.

Cavities & Tooth Decay 

What everybody fears, the classic foe when it comes to dental health - cavities. Do you think you'll be able to blame mom and dad for them? Well, you might! Cavities are affected by multiple genetic and behavior factors such as the DEFB1 (beta defensin 1) gene. The DEFB1 gene plays a vital role in the first-line immune defense against invading germs and bacteria. Research has shown that certain variations along this DEFB1 gene are are linked with higher levels of tooth decay. 

The amount of saliva your mouth and glands produce also can affect the development of cavities. As a dry mouth has difficulty washing away bacteria and food particles. In addition, crowded or misaligned teeth can make properly cleaning your teeth a challenge, also leading to greater risk for developing cavities. 

If your teens are at high risk for cavities, talk to their dentist about sealant treatments. Adults with a high risk of tooth decay may benefit from higher quality tooth pastes or mouth rinses. Be certain to visit the dentist for regular cleanings and exams. If left untreated, tooth decay can aggravate gum disease or eventually cause tooth loss. 

Teeth & Jaw Alignment 

Because your jaw shape and size is determined by your genes, as a result, the way your teeth are aligned is influenced by your jaw, thus influenced by your genes. Any crowding, over/under/cross bites, and gaps are all determined by genetics.

Unfortunately not even the most perfect of dental hygiene routines can change the size or shape of your jaw but professional dental help can make adjustments with prescribed braces, headgear, or other procedures to help realign teeth for the smile you desire. 

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 and money down the road.

Oral Cancers

Although cancer isn't a risk that is often considered to be founded in genetics, it isn't unusual to hear that it 'runs in the family'. Evidence has suggested that people with particular genetic markets can have a higher risk for oral cancer but in this particular circumstance, genetics aren't the main influencing factor - whereas lifestyle choices such as whether you use tobacco and alcohol are easily the primary determinant.  

Although genetic factors have the ability to impact your oral health they don't do it all. Although genes can be 'linked' to the cause or risk to something, that doesn't mean it's 'determined by it'. So even if you possess one of the genes associated with higher rates of cavities or gum disease, proper dental hygeien can help prevent experiencing any problems related to it. 

Be certain to brush twice daily, floss at least once per day, and visit your dental professional for regular cleanings and checkups. Together you and your dental team can keep your mouth in top shape regardless of your genetic predispositions.


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