Think Tooth Decay is Just about Sugar and Bad Dental Hygiene: Think Again.

by | Nov 7, 2014 | Dental News

Hi everyone!

genetic-dentistryDo you know someone who rarely brushes their teeth and only flosses when something is stuck between their teeth and even then when absolutely necessary?  You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? Many times it’s the person that goes to the dentist and rarely if ever has a cavity.  It can make people who are diligent about their oral hygiene but still have dental problems pretty mad.

But if you’re the former patient, science may have the answer to this unfair state of affairs for you. In fact there is an entire field of study dedicated to it.  It’s called genetic dentistry.  Genetic dentistry may be in its infancy, but it’s growing rapidly.  In the not-too-distant future dentists may be discussing your dental genetics much as your physician is interested in your health history.

A Common Chronic Disease

Whether we like it or not, cavities or tooth decay is  the most common chronic disease worldwide.   But researchers have recently uncovered more answers as to why cavities are so prevalent today.  It seems slamming down sugar containing drinks and noshing on gummy bears isn’t the only reason for the increase in tooth decay.

According to Mary L. Marazita, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, 60 percent of the risk for cavities appears to be from genetic factors, not environmental.

Researchers have specifically identified areas where genes may influence tooth decay for further study:

  • Sweet tooth.  You’ve probably have heard the phrase “sweet tooth” somewhere before.  Science shows that not all people have the same degree of fondness for sweets.  The stronger the desire for sweets the more likely you are to have cavities.
  • Tooth Enamel.  Tooth enamel may be the hardest substance in the human body, but the reality is that some people have softer or thinner enamel than others.   Unfortunately, our enamel structure is determined by our genes, and those people with softer enamel need to be more conscientious with their dental care.
  • Taste perception.  People with similar environments and who have been exposed to the same food growing up differ in their reaction to certain food tastes according to this study.  Testing the taste reactions among sets of twins with both cilantro and basil, researchers were able to measure the range and variety of foods subjects tasted or enjoyed.  They ultimately identified the single gene that allowed one twin to enjoy the taste and smell of cilantro while the other twin disliked it.
  • Basically, the greater the range or variety of your taste ability, the less likely you’ll develop tooth decay.   It’s not clear if more variety in taste means a person is less likely to crave sweets.  This connection will require further study and research.
  • Saliva.  Another way our genes influence our oral health is with saliva.   Without saliva your system has a difficult time metabolizing many nutrients including starches, potassium and calcium.   Scientists have now identified a gene that makes some people better at this process than others.  In addition to the quality, the quantity of saliva is an important factor, often genetically determined.  The more saliva the less cavities. So, it’s not just about how much of the right foods you eat, but also how well your saliva metabolizes it so that’s its available to your body.
  • Oral Bacterial Communities.  The number of bacteria present in a clean mouth has been estimate to roughly equal the population of our planet. In addition, your mouth is home to over 600 species of bacteria, some of them helpful and some of them harmful.  The entire community is called your Microbiome.  Your own particular microbiome dictates your risk for cavities.

It’s easy to blame genetics for your dental issues, but the truth is you have the power to create disease or health in your mouth.  It has been estimated that your genes account for 60 percent of your chances of getting cavities; the other 40 percent is most definitely within your control.  A good start is to contact us at Dr. Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD, PC where we will provide an examination, educate you and determine how we can best help keep your smile attractive and strong and your decay rate to a minimum.  Call us today at 248-356-8790, and see what a dental visit to compassionate and caring professionals can do for you.  Discover the difference a great dentist makes!

Until Next Time,

Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790