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Are Cavities Genetic?

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A child suffering from toothache holds his left check with his left hand.

Cavities, those pesky little holes in our teeth that cause discomfort and trips to the dentist, have long been a concern. It has been long heard of people attributing their dental issues to genetics, suggesting that if their parents had cavities, they are likely to have them, too. But is there any truth to this claim?

While genetics can contribute to the susceptibility of developing cavities due to factors like tooth structure and the oral microbiome, they are not the sole determinants. 

Nature vs. Nurture

When discussing genetics and cavities, it’s important to recognize that genetics are only one part of the equation. The role of genetics might set the stage for potential vulnerabilities, but your lifestyle heavily influences the actual development of cavities. 

Your dental care routine, diet choices, frequency of dental check-ups, and even fluoride exposure all contribute significantly to your oral health.

Genetics & Tooth Structure

One of the arguments supporting the idea that cavities might be genetic is based on the structure of teeth. Some people have softer tooth enamel than others. The softer the enamel, the more bacteria can excavate, resulting in tooth cavities. Since genes are a major predictor of enamel design, they can significantly impact the likelihood that you experience tooth decay.

However, genetics are only one piece of the puzzle. Even if you inherit teeth with less robust enamel, your oral hygiene practices and dietary choices can significantly impact your cavity risk. Regular brushing, flossing, and maintaining a balanced diet low in sugary and acidic foods are crucial in preventing cavities, regardless of your genetic predisposition.

Bacterial Factors

The oral microbiome, the diverse community of more than 700 different species of bacteria residing in the mouth, also plays a pivotal role in cavity formation. The balance of these bacteria can be influenced by oral hygiene practices, diet, and even environmental factors.

The Basics of Cavities

To understand the potential genetic component of cavities, it’s important to comprehend how they develop. Cavities, also known as tooth decay, result from various factors, including oral hygiene habits, diet, mouth bacteria, and tooth structure. At its core, cavities form when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that gradually erode the tooth enamel, the protective outer layer of teeth. Over time, this erosion creates small openings or cavities.

Who Gets Cavities? 

Cavities are more prevalent in children, although they also occur in adults. Adults are more prone to two types of cavities:

Cavities that arise around a filling are recurrent cavities. Natural teeth are smoother than fillings. Food and bacteria can become entangled near the border of a filling. This can result in developing a new cavity on the tooth around the filling. Plus, when a filling cracks, the exposed portion of the tooth is more prone to develop a cavity.

Cavities occurring on the roots of teeth are the other type adults are prone to experience. Brushing your teeth too hard over the years can cause the gums to recede. Gums might retreat with age as well. When your gums aren’t snug against your teeth, their roots are exposed, and because roots lack a strong, outer layer like enamel to protect them, they are more susceptible to cavities.

A father teaching his young boy to brush his teeth in the bathroom.

Take Charge of Your Smile Today

Your daily oral hygiene routine and dietary choices impact whether you experience cavities.

So, while genetics can contribute to cavities to some extent, they are far from the sole result of your genetic makeup. 

Practicing good oral hygiene, maintaining a balanced diet, and visiting your dentist at Marks Dentistry regularly are powerful tools to prevent cavities and maintain a healthy smile—regardless of genetic predisposition. Schedule an appointment today for a family-friendly dental check-up to help prevent cavities from developing. 

Written by Dr. Jonah Marks

Dr. Jonah Marks received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Schulich School of Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario. During his time at Schulich, Dr. Marks volunteered at Schulich’s Dental Outreach Community Services, providing pro bono dental treatment to underprivileged patients in London, Ontario. He currently provides pro bono work for LAMP Community Health Care Centre and the Alpha Omega Dental Volunteer Program. In addition, Dr. Marks travelled to Nicaragua where he provided dental care in underserved communities.

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