Genetic Inheritance Matters in Oral Health

You might have heard someone say that their oral health problems are genetically inherited -- “it runs in the family.” You might not politely and move the conversation to another subject. Or you might challenge the statement and respond that the belief is not true. You have been told frequently that cavities and gum disease are determined by diet and dental hygiene habits. dna-pixabay cco free - 5297378 640


Which answer is right?


In a great many cases, there is not a single cause of chronic oral health problems. Both genetic inheritance and oral hygiene are factors in your oral health, as well as diet, other illnesses, and more.


How Does Genetic Inheritance Cause Oral Health Problems?

  1. A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine discovered that a “polymorphic variation in a gene called beta-defensin1 (DEFB1)” increases your predisposition to develop caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease. 

  2. Two types of proteins (amelogenins and nonamelogenins) determine the formation of dental hard tissues (like enamel). This determines key characteristics of the enamel -- size, shape, and shade) and your propensity to cavity (caries) development. 

  3. A compromised immune system -- whether genetic, medication or illness -- creates an environment that facilitates the effects of the oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans, a common cause of cavity development.

  4. People who are genetically intolerant of fructose have a deficiency in the enzyme fructose-1-phosphatase aldolase. This enzyme affects the metabolism of glucose and causes a drop in blood glucose levels after ingesting fructose. This affects the number of sugars in your mouth and their effects on your teeth. 

  5. Some people are genetically insensitive to bitter tastes. These people are unable to perceive bitter or sweet tastes. In order to taste sweetness, a high amount of sugar is needed. Sugar, of course, is a leading cause of cavities.

  6. Saliva is important in protecting your mouth from bacteria. It contains antimicrobial peptides (AMPS), which has antibiotic properties. Individual differences in salivary AMP concentration combined with a genetic predisposition to a reduced concentration defines the rate of cavity development.

Genetics and Periodontitis

Periodontitis is now understood to be an inflammatory disease that attacks the gums and bones around your teeth. Studies have found that people with aggressive periodontitis (AgP) are affected by a genetic factor that contributed to more than 50% of all cavities in these children and 25% in adults. 


To date, 38 genes have been demonstrated to be related to periodontitis. Research studies have found more genetic activity in causing aggressive periodontitis compared to chronic periodontitis. A DNA alteration has been isolated in people with chronic periodontitis.


Many factors, including genetic factors, contribute to dental health. This makes it more important to be diligent in our oral hygiene regimen.