Are Teeth and Gum Problems Genetic?

Are teeth and gum problems genetic?
10 Nov 2020

Dental patients often ask this question. Who is to blame for that imperfect smile, constant cavities, or tender, swollen gums? In some cases, the answer is simple: some tooth issues are because of your genes. However, there are many factors at play when it comes to dental health.

There are two sides to the coin: genetics and oral hygiene. Here we look at what is causing your teeth and gum problems.

Crooked Teeth

Let’s start with the most straightforward dental issue: crooked teeth. Two things lead to crooked teeth: genes and the environment. If your parents or other family members have features such as crowding, gaps, overbites and underbites, the chances are that you and your children will have these same features.

When it comes to the environment, habits such as using a pacifier too long, thumb sucking, or tongue thrusting can lead to misalignments. If your family tends to have tooth misalignment, early orthodontic treatment can help developing bones and teeth grow correctly.

You can also help prevent more severe problems in the future by keeping an eye on your kids and make sure they aren’t sucking their thumbs or using a pacifier beyond the age of two.

Yellow Teeth

Having pearly white teeth isn’t easy. You are up against several issues, including genetics. Your genes dictate how your white enamel and yellow dentine form. The thinner your white enamel, the more prominent the yellow dentin layer below becomes. However, yellowing teeth over time are a product of our environment.

Some environmental factors, such as being given too much fluoride as a child or your mom using tetracycline while pregnant, will affect tooth colour. But habits such as drinking lots of tea and coffee or smoking will add to yellowing teeth.

Practice good oral hygiene and see our office for your regular cleaning and checkups. Avoid consuming too much tea and coffee and smoking. If the yellow bothers you, we can also discuss whitening or other cosmetic dentistry treatments.

Tooth Decay

Your genes determine tooth enamel composition. The softer your enamel, the more prone you might be to tooth decay. This is because soft enamel makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate the tooth surface, leading to cavities.

A lesser-known fact of interest is that those with a stronger sense of taste are less prone to tooth decay. As good as that seems, your taste is also genetic. Other factors contributing to tooth decay include:

  1. Saliva strength

    Your saliva helps process essential elements such as calcium and potassium, which help keep teeth healthy and strong. The ability to metabolize these elements is genetic. Your saliva health can contribute to tooth decay if you aren’t able to produce these elements effectively.

  2. Microbiome

    The bacteria found in your mouth and on your teeth and gums form what is known as a microbiome. Your immune system responds to these bacteria in different ways, which impacts your likelihood of tooth decay.

    The interesting fact here is that these bacteria exist from birth, which could be related to genetics. However, what negatively affects the microbiome’s health is not bacteria related to genetics. Instead, it’s the bacteria caused by eating sugary foods that can lead to tooth decay — when not removed through proper brushing. This means it is environmental causes that contribute to bacteria-related tooth decay.

  3. Teeth development

    We’ve already explained how enamel development is genetic and can lead to tooth decay. However, another factor is crooked teeth. If you have crooked teeth due to genes, or teeth not correctly formed, it becomes more challenging to clean your teeth.

    In theory, we can blame genetics for tooth decay that occurs in difficult to clean areas due to crooked teeth. People who see their baby teeth come in early are also more prone to tooth decay. The age teeth appear also tends to be determined by genetics.

Practice good oral hygiene and visit our office for your regular dental checkups. We can also look to see if sealants might help prevent cavities.

Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Gum disease causes sensitive and inflamed gums, causing decay, tooth and bone loss, and has even been linked with other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. This can be related to genetics. However, there are also environmental causes such as poor oral hygiene and smoking.

Practicing good oral hygiene, avoiding smoking, and paying close attention to your gums’ condition is your best prevention for gum disease. The sooner we can identify issues, the sooner we can provide treatment.

Oral Cancer

Genetic markers increase the risk of cancer. However, you can also increase risk by using tobacco products or drinking alcohol. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. Eat a well-balanced diet with as much natural, organic food products as possible.

Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate

This is a common congenital disability that occurs when the lip and mouth don’t fully develop. Genetics are a factor when it comes to cleft lips or palates. It is also most common in people of Asian, Latino and Native American descent. While this can’t be prevented, there are surgical procedures available to correct the issue.

While genetics can’t be blamed for every possible dental complaint, your parents do play a role in your dental health — including the oral hygiene habits they taught you as a child.

To learn more about whether your teeth and gum problems are genetic, call Guelph Family Dentistry at (519) 265-5115 or contact us here.

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Dr. Omar Al-Azzawi
Dr. Omar Al-Azzawi

Dr. Omar got his BDS degree in 2002 from the University of Baghdad. He has also completed a master degree in Prosthetic Dentistry from the University of Malaya, Malaysia in 2009. Dr. Omar got his DDS in 2013 in Canada after passing the National Dental Examination Board of Canada (NDEB) exams. Read More

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