Genetics and cavities

Even if you diligently brush and floss your teeth every day, you may still find yourself with a cavity! Don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s mounting evidence that you may have generations before you to thank for genes that made you predisposed to that cavity.

The idea that genes are related to oral health is still new, and more research is needed before any conclusions are officially drawn. A commonly cited finding says that that genetics may increase your chances of having cavities by up to 64%! A handful of studies have linked cavities and genes. Here’s a quick summary, with links if you’re interested in diving into the research:

  • Some people might have a genetic disposition for a sweet tooth, which makes them more likely to consume sugary foods and drinks that increase the risk of cavities. One study published in BMC Oral Health found that there are two sweet receptor genes that predict an enthusiasm for drinking sweet drinks, and affect the perception of sweet or bitter tastes. These genetic differences might in part explain why some people can easily pass up dessert, while for others it’s the highlight of a meal!
  • Genes can help determine the strength of your tooth enamel. Some people have harder tooth enamel while some others have softer enamel more easily damaged by cavity-causing bacteria. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science discovered a gene in mice that regulates the development of tooth enamel.
  • One study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that particular variations of genes found in saliva can also affect how likely you are to get cavities.  Using the DNA data from about 300 anonymous dental records, they found that people most likely to have cavities were also more likely to have a specific variant of the DEFB1 gene. This gene plays an important part in the first-line immune response against invading germs. Researchers concluded that it’s possible that these variations lead to differences in the gene’s ability to inhibit bacterial colonization in the mouth.
  • There have been twin studies, that show a correlation between genetics and cavities. In one study, researchers found high levels of cavity-causing bacteria in identical twin pairs, but no similar level in fraternal twins. This is significant because identical twins share all their genes, but fraternal twins only share only about half. If a particular trait is highly correlated between identical twins and less correlated between fraternal twins, then genes might play a role in the trait.

Of course, your oral hygiene at home, your dietary choices, and your commitment to professional oral health care all affect the chances of cavities so please don’t give up! It’s extra important to take care of your teeth if you think you do have a genetic predisposition for cavities. We wanted to let you know that even if you take perfect care of your teeth, there are forces out there beyond your control. That’s why we’re here for you, pain-free and judgment-free, if you do have a cavity.

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