We all know someone who brags about their report from the dentist. “No cavities, once again!” he says, as he flashes that million-watt smile. If you get cavities from time to time, his candor may make you wonder: have I mastered the art of the 45 degree toothwide brushstroke? Perhaps I need a flouride treatment? Do I need to defer to superstition and prayer along with regular check-ups?
Yes and no.
The truth is, your friend may have been born with a great predisposition to oral health. Along with your dad’s sense of humor, you may have inherited his jaw size and susceptibility to gum disease. But your genetic disposition only goes so far. Routine cleaning and check-ups, proper dental care, and early diagnosis and treatment can ensure you give yourself the best chance for a great report and an enduring smile.
What can be inherited, and what can I do about it?
When people say they have “bad teeth,” they’re likely referring to three problems: misalignment, gum disease and tooth decay.
Misalignment. Since genetics determines the shape of your jaw, you can thank your predecessors for crowding, under bites, and overbites.
Getting braces on our kids early can positively alter the structure of their teeth and help to develop their bones. For adults, the benefits are more than aesthetic. A proper bite, straight teeth, and an aligned jaw can enhance long-term oral health.
Periodontal disease: About one-third of the population is predisposed to gum disease. This is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place, and is characterized by inflammation and sensitivity, and can lead to decay.
For those who are predisposed to gum disease, proper dental hygiene and early detection can slow and reverse its advances. If you know your parents or other family members have had gum disease, tell your dentist.
Tooth decay: More than half the risk of decay is linked to genetic factors and researchers have linked tooth decay to variations in one gene. Our genetic profile can describe the flavors we prefer, our enamel, the strength of our saliva, even the way our immune system reacts to bacteria in our mouth.
But about 40% of tooth decay issues are environmental. This confirms the value of regular cleanings and checkups, proper brushing, and a low-sugar diet. If you are disposed to tooth decay, you can also talk to your dentist about sealants, fluoride treatments, and prescription toothpastes and mouth rinses.
Your soda-drinking, candy-eating friend who boasts about his perfect report may just be lucky, but there is no reason to despair–so much is actually in our control.