The development of dental health issues is complex and multifactorial. Dental health is not determined solely by genetics but by the interaction of genes inherited from your family, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors. Here, we’ll discuss the influences behind certain dental issues, including tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer.
Those who consume a high amount of sugar (like sports drinks, juice, soda, candy, and refined carbohydrates) are at a higher risk of developing decay. Early-stage tooth decay occurs when the outer protective layer of your teeth, called the enamel, is weakened. When fueled by your dietary sugars, bacterial plaque produces acids that gradually dissolve your enamel. If your enamel does not adequately remineralize, these soft spots can advance into permanent damage, called cavities or caries. Our expert team here at Ammons Dental By Design must then treat these holes and pits in your teeth with a filling or root canal therapy.
Having certain variations of the gene called beta defensin 1 (DEFB1) may be associated with a greater risk of developing cavities. DEFB1 is important for the immune system because it affects a person's ability to fight off the growth of bad oral bacteria.
The stages of gum disease include gingivitis and varying levels of periodontitis. Gingivitis involves inflammation and irritation of the gums, most commonly caused by the buildup of plaque. It can often be reversed with improved oral hygiene habits and professional dental cleanings. But if left unaddressed, it can progress to periodontitis, an infection that causes loosening of the gums and the formation of pockets around the teeth. Continued bacterial growth will lead to loss of teeth and the bone that supports your teeth.
There are several genetic factors that can impair the immune and inflammatory responses, thus influencing a person's predisposition to gum disease. But current research indicates that environmental factors contribute more to the development of gum disease than any specific gene. Factors include, but are not limited to: tobacco use, low socioeconomic status, a lower level of education, an insufficient understanding of oral health, a diet high in simple carbohydrates, and poor oral hygiene.
Oral cancer is uncontrolled cell growth involving the oral cavity (i.e. the outer lips, inner lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of the tongue, and the roof or floor of the mouth) or the oropharynx (i.e. the middle area of the throat, the tonsils, and the back one-third of the tongue). During an oral cancer screening, we look for abnormal lumps, red or white patches, persistent sores that bleed easily, thick or hard spots, and roughened or crusted areas. Your risk of oral cancer increases due to tobacco products (e.g. chewing tobacco, pipes, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, and even smokeless tobacco products), alcohol consumption, excessive sun exposure to the lips, a diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables, and certain forms of the human papillomavirus.
Oral cancer is largely preventable due to behavioral choices, but certain rare genetic conditions have a greater risk of oral cancer. These can include Fanconi anemia, a blood disorder, and dyskeratosis congenita, which affects the bone marrow.
However, just because your genes may be associated with a greater risk of dental issues, it doesn’t mean that healthy, beautiful teeth aren't within every patient's reach. So regardless of your genetics, practice superb oral healthcare habits: brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, floss between your teeth every day, consume a diet low in sugar and high in water and nutritious foods, chew only sugar-free gum, avoid using tobacco products, and regularly visit us for checkups and cleanings.