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Genetic Factors and Tooth Decay Risk

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Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in the world, but some people may be more vulnerable to it than others. If you’ve ever wondered why your friend seems to eat candy and drink soda constantly, yet rarely or never develops any cavities, while you brush after every meal and still end up in the dentist’s chair, the answer might be in your genes. According to research, about 60 percent of tooth decay appears to involve genetic factors. Although it’s still a relatively new area of study, it’s clear that tooth decay and genetics are closely related in several important ways.

Tooth Decay and Genetics: Five Ways They’re Related

  1. Scientists have discovered that some people are genetically programmed to enjoy sweets more than others. If all other factors are equal, those with stronger sweet preferences tend to develop tooth decay more often.
  2. The human body plays host to various communities of bacteria. Separate communities live on the tongue, below the gum line, and on the surface of teeth. As a whole, these communities make up what scientists call a microbiome. Each person’s immune response to his or her microbiome depends on genetic factors, and the immune response contributes to the risk of tooth decay.
  3. Genetic factors determine each person’s ability to taste certain flavors, or perceive them in a specific way. Studies have demonstrated that people who have wider variety in their genetic taste ability profiles are less likely to develop tooth decay. The reason for this connection is yet unknown.
  4. The strength of a person’s tooth enamel is determined by their genes. Those with softer enamel are more vulnerable to bacteria, acids, and other factors that lead to tooth decay.
  5. Healthy teeth need calcium, potassium, and other minerals to stay strong, but eating the right foods isn’t enough. Saliva plays a large part in metabolizing these substances so that they can be used properly. Genes determine the effectiveness and strength of saliva.

The Other 40 Percent

If your genes have doomed you to experience a high risk of tooth decay, don’t despair. The other 40 percent of tooth decay is related to hygiene and behaviors, and those are elements you can control. Brush and floss regularly, see your dentist often, don’t smoke, and avoid sugary drinks and snacks.

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