Have you ever wondered if oral health and genetics are connected? If your parents were prone to cavities, are you predetermined to be as well? There is still more research to be done, but it is estimated that genetics account for around 10% of tooth decay. It makes sense that our genetics affect our teeth, but how? Here’s what you need to know about genetics and teeth health.
Genetics: Teeth and Cavities
We know two genetic conditions that cause poor enamel health and carry a high risk of decay: amelogenesis imperfecta and dentinogenesis imperfecta.
Amelogenesis imperfecta causes poorly formed enamel. Teeth with this condition are typically smaller and discolored. After they erupt, these teeth will decay and erode quickly. These genetic mutations send messages to the teeth to produce defective enamel. The teeth of a patient with dentinogenesis imperfecta may look similar to amelogenesis imperfecta.
Dentinogenesis imperfecta is a genetic disorder of the development of the inner layers of the tooth. This condition may be associated with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition that causes bones to form improperly. Dentinogenesis imperfecta leaves the teeth discolored, translucent, or opalescent. Teeth are weak and can wear quickly, break, and be lost easily. Thankfully, both amelogenesis imperfecta and dentinogenesis imperfecta are fairly rare, occurring in between one in seven thousand to one in fourteen thousand people in the United States—but not all genetic factors that affect tooth health are rare.
Saliva Production and Your Genes
Lack of saliva is a major factor in tooth decay. The saliva of healthy individuals contains antimicrobial protective enzymes. Beta defensin-1 is an enzyme controlled by the DEFB1 gene that has been studied worldwide because it helps protect the teeth. Saliva also contains minerals that the tooth is made up of. The amount of calcium phosphate constantly bathing the teeth helps keep teeth healthy. As such, dry mouth makes your teeth more vulnerable to decay.
What About Taste Buds?
What we eat definitely impacts our teeth and as you may have guessed, those who eat more sugary food are more prone to cavities. Many genes have been discovered that directly impact taste. For example, the TAS2R38 gene is associated with supertasters. Supertasters are extremely sensitive to phenols and other chemicals that are common in cruciferous vegetables. Even though the gene loses its expression during midlife, supertasters are prone to eating more sugar because they prefer sweets to vegetables. Other genes that influence taste preference for sweets can similarly increase risk factors for tooth decay.
How Do I Know if Genetics Are Impacting My Oral Health?
Unfortunately, aside from a couple of gene variations that create a unique expression and appearance in the mouth, we cannot test your genes to determine whether they are increasing your risk for tooth decay. Scientists, however, are making new discoveries about genetics and teeth every day, and it is easy to imagine a time when genetic testing for your oral health will be available. Until then, it is important to remember that consistent brushing and flossing, regular trips to the dentist, and a healthy diet are all preventative measures. No matter what your genetics, taking care of your teeth and gums is always beneficial!