Some of us can stride out of our regular dental visits with those beautiful words ringing through our ears: “no cavities.” For others, it seems almost every visit slaps us with the reality that no matter how hard we try to brush and floss, it never seems to keep the cavities at bay.
If you’ve been down on yourself for your dental status, it might not be your fault. Instead, you may just be the unlucky inheritor of bad genes.
What oral health traits are hereditary?
You look like your parents, right? Along with body shape and hair color, you’ve inherited a similar jaw structure and tooth shape. Depending on what that looks like, you could just naturally have teeth that are overcrowded or misshapen.
When this happens, and especially if not corrected by orthodontic treatment, it can be harder to reach certain surface areas with your toothbrush. That alone can create the potential for more cavities.
There are plenty of genetic factors that contribute to enamel thickness and strength. Enamel is the hard outer layer on your teeth that protects against tooth decay. The thinner the enamel, the easier it is for decay to progress to a painful stage.
More research is needed to know more about how hereditary enamel thickness may increase susceptibility to tooth decay.
Believe it or not, genes have an impact on what flavors you like. For instance, you know how some people love the taste of cilantro, but others say it tastes like soap? The reason for that difference in taste is genetics.
In the same vein, some folks naturally gravitate towards sweeter foods – which increases the likelihood you will develop cavities.
Oral cancer risk
While there are a lot of factors that may increase your risk for developing oral cancer, there is evidence to suggest your genes may play a role.
But … you can’t blame it all on genes
It might be tempting to throw your hands up in the air and send your parents your dental bill, but your risk for developing dental health issues is influenced by too many factors to blame it all on them.
According to the American Dental Association, “Many common diseases are not inherited as a single gene defect but instead result from gene-environment interactions.”
In other words, your genes play a role, but your dental hygiene, your environment, your habits (smoking, alcohol use, food consumption), and other biological and pathological factors can also help or hurt your mouth.
So, what does that mean?
Well, it’s important for your dentist to know your full health history so they can make the best recommendations and ensure any dental treatment works well with any medications or supplements you’re taking.
Your everyday choices play the most important role in your oral health status
When you eat sensibly, avoid tobacco, use a mouth guard for sports, and maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing, you’re doing the best you can to keep your pearly whites in good shape for a lifetime — regardless of your genes.