Though most oral health conditions are preventable, 3.5 billion people worldwide and 3 out of every 4 people in middle-income countries suffer from cavities, gum diseases, and oral cancers.
We are all well aware of the tooth cavity, also called dental caries or tooth decay.
The Centres for Disease Control states that 90% of adults 20 years and older have had at least one cavity in their permanent teeth during their lifetime.
It may be intriguing to realize that while some people have chronic and frequent issues with dental cavities, some people are able to avoid dental visits for years together blissfully.
Does this mean dental cavities are genetic? Let’s find out in this article!
What Are Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities or tooth decay are permanently damaged areas of tooth structure that result in cavitation or the formation of a hole in the tooth structure.
Dental cavities occur due to a combination of various factors:
- The presence and amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth
- Consumption of sugary foods and beverages
- Frequent snacking
- Poor oral hygiene habits (improper brushing and flossing)
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How Do Dental Cavities Occur?
Dental plaque is a thin, colorless, sticky film that covers the surfaces of teeth.
This plaque harbors bacteria, food particles, and saliva.
When you don’t clean your teeth properly, plaque builds up and can harden over time.
Hardened plaque is called tartar; this layer is difficult to remove with simple brushing.
Dental plaque is an important factor in the initiation of tooth decay.
Early or Initial Demineralization
When the bacterial load in the plaque begins to build up, they produce acids.
These bacterial acids slowly begin to dissolve the outermost layer of the tooth, called enamel, by a process called demineralization.
As enamel begins to lose minerals, it forms a white spot on the teeth. This is the earliest stage of tooth decay.
If the decay isn’t spotted in the demineralization stage, it progresses to further breaking down the enamel layer.
This usually presents as a darkening of the white spot to cause a brownish color.
As the enamel continues to weaken, it eventually forms a cavity.
If intervened at this stage, your dentist can remove all the decay and fill the cavity to prevent the progression of the dental cavity.
Besides the brownish color of the cavity and food getting stuck in it, you may not have any other signs or symptoms at this stage.
If tooth cavity formation is not checked at stage 2, the decay progresses into the second or the middle tooth layer called the dentin.
Dentin is softer than enamel and tends to decay faster than the latter.
The dentin layer contains tubules that house the tooth nerves. So, when decay reaches the dentinal layer, you will experience sensitivity to cold and hot foods and drinks.
When the tooth decay is allowed to progress to stage 4, it reaches the innermost layer of the tooth called the pulp.
The pulpal layer of the tooth contains nerves and blood vessels that are required to nourish and keep it healthy.
When tooth decay reaches the pulp, it irritates it and causes the tissues to swell.
This pulpal swelling cannot expand due to the overlying tooth structure, and so begins to apply pressure on the nerves and tissues below.
This is what triggers pain associated with tooth cavities.
The final stage of tooth cavity formation is the formation of an abscess.
When tooth decay invades the pulp, the increased inflammation results in a pus pocket or abscess at the bottom of your tooth.
Tooth abscesses must be immediately attended to and drained to prevent infection from spreading to nearby tissues.
The treatment for tooth cavities depends upon the stage at which you report to your dentist and can range from a simple filling to a root canal or tooth removal.
Are Cavities Genetic? 5 Ways Genes Affect Tooth Decay Risk
There is ample research that states cavities are genetic.
Genes influence various teeth and other factors that may increase one’s risk for cavities.
The process of enamel formation, called amelogenesis, determines the size, shade of enamel, tooth shape, and susceptibility of the tooth to tooth decay.
It was found that any genetic alterations in the proteins responsible for amelogenesis can increase one’s risk for tooth cavities.
Streptococcus mutans is a bacterium present in a healthy oral cavity.
Your immune response influences the growth of this bacteria in the mouth.
Some people have gene changes that result in weaker immune responses, which can lead to irregular growth of S.mutans.
This can increase the risk of cavities.
Some people have a genetic inclination to prefer sweet food more than others. They require higher amounts of sweet foods to experience the joy of eating them.
Overconsumption of sweet foods can put you at a higher risk of tooth cavities.
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Nature, Flow, And Composition Of Saliva
Saliva flow and consistency play a huge role in tooth decay and other oral diseases.
When saliva is thin and free-flowing, it can easily wash away bacteria from your teeth.
This reduces your risk of gum disease or other infections
On the other hand, having less quantity of thicker saliva increases the risk of tooth decay.
Studies have shown that women have less saliva than men. So they are more prone to tooth decay.
Saliva comprises various electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, and phosphates. They help inhibit caries formation and progression.
Certain gene changes result in inadequate electrolytes in saliva, increasing the risk for cavities.
The oral microbiome is the collective collection of microbes residing in your mouth.
It plays an important role in the development of numerous oral infectious diseases, including dental caries, periodontitis, and peri-implant disease.
Genetic factors can contribute to the imbalance in the gut microbiome, resulting in an increased risk for all these conditions.
Other Factors That Influence Cavity Formation
Besides the causes of tooth cavities mentioned above, other lesser-known factors include:
- Constant snacking
- Missed dental visits
- Improper tooth brushing and flossing
5 Effective Tips To Prevent Genetic Cavities
Tooth cavities are highly preventable, and here are a few effective tips for doing so, regardless of genetics:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a soft or medium-bristled toothbrush.
- Flossing your teeth every day to help remove food debris between teeth
- Cutting back on the consumption of sugary foods and beverages
- Dental sealants or fluoride treatments in people, especially children, who are more prone to dental caries
- Dental checkups at least twice a year or as recommended by your dentist
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Summary: Are Cavities Genetic?
- Tooth cavities are one of the most common oral health diseases.
- Tooth cavities can occur due to a combination of factors, such as consumption of sugary foods, frequent snacking, poor oral hygiene habits, and genetics.
- Tooth cavities occur in five stages – early demineralization, enamel decay, dentin decay, pulp decay, and abscess formation.
- Your genes determine factors like saliva consistency and nature, immune response, and enamel structure, which can increase the risk of tooth cavities.
- Brushing and flossing your teeth, regular dental checkups, and controlling your sugar intake can help prevent tooth cavities.