Our genes affect things like our hair color, eye color, and personality, but can they also affect our oral health? The simple answer is that, yes, our genetics can play a role in our oral health. In some cases, genes may make certain people more susceptible to certain oral health problems. In other cases, genes can also make one more resilient against oral health problems. To understand why this is and just how your genes can affect your oral health, we must first take a closer look at some basic genetic principles and how they relate to your oral health.
Our bodies are made from cells and each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes made up of one chromosome from each parent. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes that are either expressed or dormant. As we age, gene regulation determines what genes are active and which are inactive. However, gene regulation can be affected by things like time, environment, and the type of cell the chromosomes reside in.
In fact, the American Dental Association notes, “Many common diseases are not inherited as a single gene defect, but instead are the result of modifications in gene expression or as gene-environment interactions”. Without getting too technical, this basically means that you may have a predisposition to oral health problems, but not know it until the right environmental factor triggers the expression of a particular gene.
Here are some of the most common oral health conditions that can be partially caused by genetics:
Tooth decay occurs when excess bacteria accumulate on the surface of the tooth, causing the enamel to erode. While it is primarily caused by bacteria, it has also been linked to variations of the gene beta-defensin 1 (DEFB1). Although the presence of certain variations of this gene does not guarantee that one will be affected by tooth decay, it can increase the risk of developing tooth decay. For this reason, it is important to tell your dentist if you have a family history of tooth decay so that preventative measures can be taken to minimize your risk.
Gum disease is another common dental issue that is primarily caused by excess bacteria, specifically along the gum line. Like tooth decay, even though its primary cause is bacteria, there is also a genetic component to developing gum disease. In fact, it has been estimated that around 30% of Americans are actually genetically predisposed to developing gum disease. A family history of gum disease should also be reported to your dentist so they can help you prevent or manage potential gum disease.
Yes, you can blame your parents for your crooked smile. The alignment of your teeth and bite are directly affected by the size and shape of your skull, which develops based on the genetics provided by your parents. Crooked teeth are generally the result of a small jaw and/or a misaligned bite. Luckily, there are several options available to treat crooked teeth that will yield permanent results.
Oral cancer affects the soft tissues of the mouth including the lips, gums, tongue, inside of the cheeks, soft and hard palates, and pharynx. The primary causes of oral cancer are smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, and inadequate oral hygiene. However, a genetic marker has been identified in certain people that can increase the risk of developing oral cancer. If you have a family history of oral cancer, you can limit your risk by not smoking, regulating your alcohol intake, eating a balanced diet, and practicing good oral hygiene habits. Regular dental exams are also necessary to identify any possible warning signs early on.
Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry. He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.