Living close to the Shore, we get our fair share of sun. And if you have fair skin, hopefully, you make regular visits to the dermatologist who probably then proceeds to use up a whole bottle of liquid nitrogen freezing your suspicious sun damage spots. But, annoyingly, you probably know a person who gets, even more, sun exposure but never has anything to worry about at the skin doctor.
The same is true with teeth. There are people who, despite good home hygiene, have a filling is just about every molar. Then there are others who love to eat candy and sweets but have maybe one or two cavities, and that’s it.
What gives? Genes.
Through recent research, scientists now understand that healthy teeth depend on a combination of genetics and dental hygiene (including twice yearly trips to see the team at Gentle Dental!). Data are showing that about 60 percent of the risk of tooth decay is due to genetic factors. That’s worth giving Mom an earful this year at Thanksgiving! These show themselves in individual genes that can be found in the saliva and also that dictate certain immune responses such as the individual propensity to not have gum disease.
This research shows that your genes impact five areas of your dental health.
Preference for sweets
It appears some people simply have a genetic predisposition to like sweets! Scientists have identified gene variants that show a range of “sweet preference.” The stronger your genetic “sweet preference,” the better chance you’ll have tooth decay one day.
Your tooth enamel
The enamel on your teeth is tough. Its job is to protect the inner tooth material, the dentin. Some people have softer enamel than others, making it easier for bacteria to get through to the interior of the tooth, i.e., decay. Genes are the primary determinant of your enamel structure.
“Taste ability” is a measure of the variety of things you can taste. This is a complex process that includes your tongue and is linked with your sense of smell. Studies show that the greater your “taste ability” profile, the less likely you are to develop tooth decay. Why this is the case is still a mystery under further study.
Elements such as calcium and potassium are critical to healthy, strong teeth. These elements must be properly broken down by your saliva for your teeth to use them. Again, the power of your saliva to do this is somewhat a factor of the genetic makeup of that saliva.
Your body has communities of different bacteria. In your mouth alone, there are communities on your tongue, on the surfaces of your teeth, and below the gum line. How your body manages or responds to these bacteria affects your tendency toward tooth decay.
OK, so 60 percent of your cavities you can blame on Mom and Dad. Whether you choose to share that stat with them this year just before the pumpkin pies comes out is up to you!
The other 40 percent of your dental health is on you. How well you practice home hygiene. How many celeries sticks you have versus Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. How many Cokes you drink. All of that plays a role in your dental health, and you control these factors.