Cavities, or tooth decay, is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet some people can go through their entire life without experiencing it. Did they do something special, or did their teeth just hit the genetic jackpot?
While the most common causes of tooth decay are bacteria build-up, too much sugar, and poor dental hygiene, you can get cavities even if you try really hard at home to take care of your teeth.
This brings us to the question – are cavities genetic? In this article, I’ll discuss what makes someone predisposed to cavities, and what you can do about it.
What Are Cavities and How Do They Form?
Dental cavities are holes that appear on the hard surface of your teeth. Due to several factors, the acid in your mouth can wear down your tooth’s enamel, the visible white part of your tooth, which causes tooth decay. The acid is produced mostly by one type of nasty bacteria in plaque called Strep Mutans by taking sugars and converting them into the acid that eats away at the enamel.
When the bacteria weakens your tooth’s enamel, it creates little holes where cavities form. Once it gets in there, it can protrude through the tooth, spreading to the root. Cavities usually form on parts of your teeth that are hard to reach—along the gum line, around and under fillings, in between teeth, and in the grooves of the teeth.
Symptoms of tooth decay vary depending on its location and how much it has spread. The most common symptoms of cavities include bad breath, toothache, sensitivity to sweet, cold, or hot food and drinks, loose fillings, discoloration, and a bad taste in your mouth.
If it’s more serious, you might experience bleeding gums, facial swelling, and redness inside your mouth. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Anyone can get cavities, from infants and children to teenagers and adults. Fortunately, dealing with a cavity is a standard dental procedure. But if you don’t go to the dentist in time, tooth decay can lead to a painful toothache, infection, and having to remove your tooth. It can even spread to neighboring teeth and result in gum disease.
Are Cavities Genetic?
You might wonder, does my family just have bad teeth, or is there something else going on? This latest study published in Pediatrics, which studied cavities in identical twins, revealed that genetics alone may play a much smaller role than originally thought. Interestingly, the scientists found the identical twins did not have the same amount of tooth decay.
According to their research, an obese pregnant mom was more likely to have a child with cavities. The higher the weight, the more the cavities. Perhaps poor habits, rather than bad genetics alone, are to blame after all.
Let’s take a look at some factors other than diet and hygiene that may make someone more prone to cavities.
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. You need strong enamel so your teeth can remain healthy and protected against bacteria.
However, due to genetics, you may have a condition called amelogenesis imperfecta, which makes the enamel weak and the teeth more prone to cavities. Or you may have hypoplastic teeth, which happens when the enamel didn’t form correctly because of environmental conditions.
Similarly, your sugar cravings can be traced back to your parents, their parents, and so on. Wow, according to new research, you can now blame your parents for your sweet tooth!
The chemical composition of your saliva is crucial because it contains vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium, that are protective against cavities.
Aside from tooth decay, dry mouth (or xerostomia) can also cause cavities. When your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, it can’t wash away the bacteria that build up on your teeth. A dry mouth is usually caused by dehydration or more serious conditions like diabetes or certain autoimmune diseases. You might also be taking medication that reduces saliva production, like antidepressants.
If you are dealing with any of these issues, not to worry. There’s a lot you can do to keep your mouth healthy and cavity free, despite these issues. Be sure to speak with your dentist in person to get the best course of action.
Other Common Causes of Cavities
Even though you may have some of these issues discussed above, there’s a lot you can do at home to stay cavity free.
Cavities form because of plaque, a sticky white film that appears on the surface of your teeth, which can be caused by many factors. If the plaque isn’t removed in time, it can harden into tartar, which is even harder to remove.
Your diet can be the biggest reason you keep getting cavities. To be more specific, sugar is usually the main culprit. When you consume a lot of sweet food and drinks, the sugar in your mouth creates plaque, which attacks your tooth’s enamel. Aside from sugar, food and beverages packed with carbohydrates and starch can also lead to tooth decay.
Another common cause of tooth decay is bad oral hygiene. If you don’t brush your teeth regularly, food particles will stick between your teeth, which can cause even more bacteria to build up. Some people don’t brush their teeth thoroughly, so cavities usually form in your back teeth, like your molars and premolars. These teeth are the hardest to reach in your mouth.
More rarely, cavities can be traced back to medications like antidepressants, radiation therapy, etc. Lots of illnesses and medical conditions can contribute to cavities because they affect the amount of saliva produced, or the quality of the enamel. This includes Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, heartburn, thyroid disorders, and hormonal issues.
How to Prevent Cavities
After reading this article, you might feel discouraged because you are dealing with some of these issues that are out of your control. But just because you are more prone to cavities doesn’t mean you should give up on dental hygiene. Quite the contrary, there are things you can do to minimize the risk of tooth decay.
According to Mayo Clinic, you should brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. Every time you brush your teeth, you should brush for no less than 2 minutes. Remember that it’s not just how often you brush your teeth but also how well you do it.
Instead of rushing, take time to clean between each tooth and all the places that are hard to reach. It’s also highly recommended to floss your teeth every day. You may want to brush with a special kind of toothpaste that works better at preventing cavities.
You can also use mouthwash in addition to brushing and flossing your teeth.
One of the most important aspects of having healthy teeth is eating well. Not only should you avoid eating junk food with a lot of sugar, but you should also avoid frequent snacking. Instead, you should eat food rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients. In addition, you should drink plenty of water daily, as hydration plays a significant role in your teeth’s health.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t skip going to the dentist. In fact, you should get a check-up every six months. And if you are experiencing any of the tooth decay symptoms we talked about above, don’t put off getting your mouth examined by your dentist.
Do Dental Cavities Run in the Family?
Have you ever wondered why you always get cavities, even when you brush your teeth every day and go to the dentist regularly, while others are lucky to never go through the same thing? This is why you might be wondering, “Are cavities genetic?”
The newest research suggests the answer may be more environmental. However, I can tell you from my experience over the years working with many families, the answer is not so clear cut. I do have the patient who comes to me from time to time, who eats a lot of junk food, hardly brushes their teeth, and yet, they don’t have a single cavity. Their dental compliant siblings and parents are often bewildered! The answer is not so clear it seems.
Do the best with the information you have, and be sure to have frequent dental check-ups to catch any small cavities before they develop into something more problematic.