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While your everyday brushing and flossing routine is very important, your genetics can also play a role in your oral health overall. If your parents are prone to certain dental issues, you could inherit those issues too. Understanding your genetics can help you get more accurate oral health diagnoses and prevent problems in the future. At Mill Dam Dental Care, we provide personalized dental care that takes your family history, genetics, and oral health into account so that you can build the happiest and healthiest smile possible.

How Does Genetics Affect Our Oral Health?

Genetics affects our oral health in many ways. In many cases, the structure of your mouth is passed down through several generations. Some ways that genetics can affect our oral health include:

  • Enamel structure: Your enamel structure is genetically inherited from your parents, and it determines how strong your teeth will be. If you have a naturally weak enamel, you are more likely to develop tooth decay as you age.
  • Saliva production: Your genetics also determines how much saliva your mouth produces. This is very important, because saliva prevents the acid in food from eroding your enamel. If your mouth doesn’t naturally produce much saliva, you’ll have to be more diligent with your dental care routine to prevent tooth decay.
  • Tooth alignment: Genetics will also determine the structure of your jaw and teeth, which affects how your teeth sit in your mouth. This means that if your parents needed braces or other orthodontic treatment, you’re more likely to need that treatment as well. This also affects the spacing of your teeth, which will determine how difficult they are to clean. For example, some people are more prone to getting food stuck between their teeth and need to be particularly diligent about flossing.

Which Dental Conditions Are Inheritable?

There are certain oral health conditions that are partially or fully determined by genetics, while others are determined entirely by other physical factors. Just because you are genetically prone to an oral health condition doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop it in your lifetime – good dental health habits go a long way towards keeping these conditions in check. Here are some of the most common dental conditions that are determined by your genes.

Cavities and Tooth Decay

Genetics can greatly affect your mouth’s ability to fight off tooth decay. Amelogenesis imperfecta is a genetic condition that causes defective tooth enamel and extreme sensitivity. There are also milder forms of enamel defects that are also genetic.

We’ve already noted that genetics determine the strength of your tooth enamel and your saliva production, both of which serve as lines of defense against cavities. Some people find that they are particularly prone to cavities from a young age because of this. If this is the case for you, talk to your dentist about what you can do to prevent and manage cavities.

Oral Cancer

Genetics can influence your likelihood of developing oral cancer. If a parent or someone else in your family has had oral cancer, be sure to talk to your dentist about regular cancer screenings. Your dentist should conduct a brief cancer screening at each checkup, which increases the likelihood of catching the cancer early and getting appropriate treatment.

However, genetics is just one factor in the potential development of oral cancer. Lifestyle factors like your diet and alcohol and tobacco use are much more likely predictors of oral cancer.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is an extremely common but serious gum infection that develops when gingivitis goes untreated for an extended period of time. Gingivitis develops as a combination of genetic and external factors. A diligent brushing and flossing routine and regular dental visits can prevent periodontal disease, even for patients that are genetically prone to it. Alternatively, poor oral hygiene and smoking can lead to periodontal disease, even if you are not genetically predisposed to it. 

Researchers believe that periodontal disease is 30 to 50 percent inheritable, and there are multiple genes that can affect your predisposition to this condition. Factors like the structure of your teeth, your saliva production, and your immune system’s ability to fight off infection are all genetically predetermined, and they all play a part in your likelihood of developing periodontal disease.

Canker Sores

While canker sores don’t typically have long-term health consequences, they can be very annoying or even painful to deal with. While anyone can develop canker sores, some people are genetically predisposed to develop them more often. This is because genetics can affect your immune system, and canker sores often happen as a result of bacteria buildup in the mouth.

Structural Issues

There are certain structural issues with your teeth and jaw that are passed down genetically. For example, some people are predisposed to have extra teeth or have misaligned teeth. Malocclusion is a common structural condition where the jaw and teeth are misaligned, causing crowding. These issues can be corrected with orthodontic treatment and surgery.

Genetics and Oral Health
Genetics and Oral Health

Congenital Conditions

Cleft lip, cleft palate, and anodontia (missing permanent teeth) are all congenital conditions that are passed down genetically. These conditions are rare, but can be corrected with surgery and ongoing dental care starting early in life.

Keeping Your Mouth Healthy

Just because you are genetically predisposed to an oral health condition does not necessarily mean that you will develop it or that you won’t have a healthy mouth. Talk to your parents and other family members about their oral health history. Knowing which conditions they have can help you take better care of your mouth and prevent them.

Talk to us about any genetic oral health conditions that run in your family – we’ll discuss your family history, genetics, and oral health and recommend appropriate treatments and hygiene measures to help your mouth stay healthy for years to come. Looking for a dentist in Virginia Beach? Mill Dam Dental Care offers comprehensive dental care services, ranging from simple cleanings to cosmetic dentistry. We’re also one of the leading providers of sedation dentistry in Virginia. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!