The nature versus nurture debate is one found throughout the physical and social sciences, and it has even made its way into dentistry. It’s easy to blame genes for bad luck with a variety of health-related issues, whether the genes are fully to blame or not. While genetics are not solely responsible for the overall health of teeth and gums, genetic factors can influence oral health, and behaviors acquired through parents and family members can also play a role.
When it comes to oral health, genetics can play a role in development and resilience, affecting teeth growth and sizes, as well as the gums. Inherited malformations of the jaw and possible genetic factors that affect teeth crowding among other problems can have an effect on overall oral health. While these conditions are not genetically inherited, per se, patients can inherit a predisposition to developing certain types of dental problems. Having a genetic predisposition for gingivitis and other gum diseases also affects the oral and overall health of the patient.
Cavities are caused by bacteria that gradually eat away at teeth. When the enamel on teeth is weak, the bacteria in the mouth has a much easier time getting through the enamel to the middle of the tooth and creating a cavity. Genetically speaking, it is possible to inherit thinner enamel layers, which can make the development of cavities, also known as dental caries, more prominent in some patients.
There are other ways enamel can be weakened. Acids weaken enamel, and many highly acidic foods or beverages, such as berries, juice, coffee, or tea, are known to increase surface staining on teeth. To reduce the setting in of stains, patients will sometimes brush immediately after consuming these things, when the enamel is weakest. This brushing wears down the enamel faster.
Teeth grinding has been found to include some modest genetic factors, meaning it may be an inheritable condition despite being considered a behavioral condition. Patients may inherit a predisposition to develop bruxism, teeth grinding, at some point, just as some patients are more affected by stress in their everyday lives. Bruxism is typically associated with comorbid conditions – that is, another condition occurring alongside the teeth grinding. Patients that grind their teeth may also have a sleep disorder, manage stress poorly, experience significant anxiety, or any of a number of other conditions. Teeth grinding wears down teeth over time, especially molars, and can result in cracks, broken fillings, and other damage that affects overall oral health.
For more information on how genetics and learned behaviors can impact oral health and development, contact our experienced dentist office today!