Do Bad Teeth Run in the Family?

We actually don’t hear this question very often.  The sentiment comes more in the form of a declarative statement: “I inherited bad teeth from my parents” or something to that effect.  There are many different ways to look at this question, and we’ll try to hit it from every side because there is not a simple yes or no answer.

Evidence for Genetic Predisposition to “Bad Teeth”

Scientists released a study several years ago citing no significant effect of genetics on the tendency to develop cavities.  That means that when they studied actual DNA, there is nothing within the genes that puts someone at a higher or lower risk for cavities.

There are studies supporting a potential inherited risk for periodontal disease (gum disease).  This does not mean that you will automatically get gum disease if your parents had gum disease.  It does mean that you could have a higher risk for it than someone whose parents did not have gum disease.

Transmitted Risk for Dental Disease

Both cavities, or tooth decay, and gum disease are bacterial diseases, and bacteria are transmissible.  Babies are born without bacteria in their mouths, and parents transmit the bacteria they have to their babies by sharing spoons and kissing them.  This does not mean that these diseases are contagious.  We all have bacteria in our mouths at all times.  However, it does mean that if a parent has a very high risk for cavities and transmits those bacteria to her child, then the child will also have an increased risk for cavities.  The same is true for gum disease.

The Most Important Factor in Family Risk

Even more important than the impact of genetics and the transmission of certain bacteria are the habits we “inherit” from our families.  Did you get your “bad teeth” from your parents?  No, not really.  But you may have gotten some really bad habits from them.

Children tend to eat and drink the same thing their parents eat and drink.  If a mom or other caregiver sips sodas all day long, the children are more likely to grow up doing so.  The eating, drinking and snacking habits are very likely to continue from one generation to the next.

In the same way, children will develop dental habits based on what they see their parents or caregivers doing.  Parents who prioritize good oral hygiene and consistent dental visits will impress the importance of those things on their children.  And conversely, parents who do not brush and floss before bed will not be able to effectively convince children to do so.  Someone who grows up watching adults only go to the dentist when something hurts to have a tooth pulled will not understand the value of preventive dentistry and consistent professional teeth cleanings.  Multiple public health studies show that the attitude someone has toward oral health or any type of healthcare in general is very much a product of his or her socioeconomic status, family of origin, and access to care.

So in this way, bad teeth do run in the family.

What You Need to Know

It is important to understand any inherent risks you may have for dental diseases.  It is even more important to understand your personal risk for specific dental problems.  This is the focus of our risk assessment performed at every dental evaluation.  By identifying which dental diseases you show risk factors for, we can help you take steps to prevent those problems.  The right preventive dental care can override any inherited risk, whether that inheritance is genetic, bacterial, or bad-habit in nature.

More Questions about Your Risk for Dental Problems?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  Tell him your “hereditary” concerns and discuss your preventive options with him.  He will help you overcome any family risk you may have and keep your smile healthy throughout your life.

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