How Much Do Genetics Influence Tooth Decay?

Picture two adult patients waiting for their dental exam. One of the patients eats sticky candy every day but rarely flosses. The other avoids sugary snacks and brushes morning and night. Which patient is more likely to need a filling?

The answer depends partly on their genetics. Although it doesn’t seem fair, the second patient might develop a cavity while the first patient needs only a thorough cleaning at the check-up. This is because your genes influence:

  • What kinds of a taste preference you may have in foods (sweets vs. savory for example).
  • How strong and resistant to cavities the enamel on your teeth are.
  • How well your saliva breaks down foods as well as how much saliva you produce, both of which are factors in your susceptibility to cavities.
  • How straight or crooked your teeth are; crooked teeth are more difficult to keep clean of plaque which facilitates cavities and gum disease.

Practical Ways to Protect Teeth

Don't let the information you just read stop you from doing your part. Even if you think you inherited weak enamel, sweet-craving taste buds, or ineffective saliva from your parents, the good news is that you can limit your risk factors by taking control of your diet, habits and personal care.

Keep your teeth strong with these practices:

  • Avoid tobacco. Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco lead to numerous oral health problems, such as plaque and tartar buildup, jawbone loss, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer. You can preserve your smile by quitting these habits. It's a tough change, but it's worth making.
  • Brush and floss daily. You've heard this rule before, but it bears repeating. Dentists recommend these practices because they prevent cavities, no matter what your genetic code contains. Ask your hygienist to evaluate the effectiveness of your brushing and flossing at your next cleaning.
  • Skip sugary drinks. Soft drinks and juice can reach areas of your teeth even the stickiest candies can't find. The more you swig, the more acid builds up in your mouth—and the greater your risk for cavities. If you have a soda habit, cut back for the sake of your teeth.
  • Use fluoride. This element is a superpower: it protects teeth from decay. Ask your dentist to recommend a fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen your teeth. You can also drink Red Deer's water, since the city adds fluoride, or get fluoride treatments.

Remember, genetics are only one influence on tooth decay. You don't have to worry about your dental genetics if you take care of your teeth, eat right, and make regular visits to the dentist.