When you look in the mirror, what do you see? You might have your mother's eyes, your father's nose, your great-aunt's earlobes, and your grandma's hair color-all assembled on a face that's uniquely your own.
Most people think about hair or eye color when they discuss inheritance. But what about your teeth? Even if your smile doesn't look like your family members', your teeth could have more in common than you think.
In our blog below, we'll tell you just how genetics influences your smile-and what you can do to protect your dental health regardless of your family's history.
What Genes Can Influence
Much of your dental health is up to you. How many sugary drinks you consume, how frequently you brush and floss, and how often you visit your dentist all impact your teeth's health. However, your genes influence certain aspects of your body's chemical makeup, which in turn impacts your dental health. Here are some key ways genes can control your teeth.
Your Taste BudsHave you ever met someone who just didn't like the taste of chocolate? Maybe you can't stand cilantro because it tastes like soap, or the smell of roast beef makes you gag.
To a certain extent, your environment influences your taste buds. You might also dislike certain foods for reasons other than taste. For instance, you might think tomatoes taste fine, but you can't stand their texture.
At the same time, your genes control certain aspects about your personal tastes, including how much of a sweet tooth you have, or if cilantro tastes crisp or soapy to you. If your genes predispose you to prefer sugar to greens, you'll run a higher risk of developing tooth decay simply because you'll want to consume more sweets.
Your SalivaYour saliva plays an important role in breaking down foods to metabolize the bone- and tooth-strengthening minerals they contain. It also coats your teeth for protection and neutralizes harmful acids, to an extent.
Problems like dehydration and dry mouth can weaken saliva's effects and encourage tooth decay. But your genetics can also determine how much saliva you produce (more is better than less) and how protective your saliva is.
Your teeth's enamel protects your pulp and nerves from decay. Unfortunately, some people's genes predispose them to softer enamel, which is much more susceptible to cavities and decay.
Your Teeth's PositioningGenes determine how your teeth grow into your mouth. For instance, if your father had an overcrowded mouth and needed teeth extracted, you may as well. If one of your grandmother's permanent teeth never grew in, you could also lack that permanent tooth.
If you have an overcrowded smile or oddly positioned teeth, you could have a harder time brushing and flossing. Food particles also get trapped in your teeth much easier. These two factors can mean a greater chance of tooth decay.
What You Can Control
These genetic facts might sound discouraging, but you don't need to despair. No matter what genetics predisposes you towards, you can follow these tips to practice good oral hygiene and avoid cavities:
- Choose fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over sugary snacks-no matter how much your taste buds prefer chocolate.
- Forego sugary sodas altogether; substitute with water.
- Brush and floss twice daily. If you have overcrowded or overlapping teeth, devote extra time and attention to cleaning them thoroughly.
- Drink plenty of water to ensure your saliva production stays strong. If you notice symptoms of dry mouth, talk to your dentist or doctor.
- Visit your dentist twice annually. A deep cleaning will keep the cavities at bay, and your dentist's exam can allow him or her to find and treat decay before it worsens.
- Do what you can to strengthen your enamel. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of nutrients, and use a soft-bristled toothbrush that won't cause enamel erosion.