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Got Cavities? Don’t Blame Your Genes

by | Jan 17, 2024 | Oral Health | 0 comments

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tooth with cariesPop quiz: Do you have control over whether you develop tooth decay?

If you answered “yes,” congratulations! You passed.

And if you answered “no,” you’re not alone. According to a 2016 survey by the Children’s Dental Health Project, more than 40% of American adults “believe they have little or no control over whether they get a cavity.”

In fact, only 57% of respondents even believe they have “significant control” over getting a cavity.

Of course, this raises an interesting question: What do they think does control things? Luck? Genes?

Well, you can rule that out, presuming the results of a new study in Cell Host & Metabolism hold up.

For it, researchers examined the oral microbiome of 485 sets of 5- to 11-year old twins. “Oral microbiome” refers to all of the microbial life found inside the mouth – bacteria, viruses, fungi, protists, and archaea. Many of these microbes are helpful, but others are harmful.

And despite what the commercials say about killing germs, even the cleanest mouth contains billions of microbes, representing hundreds of species. The key is in having more good guys than bad.

Your overall health depends on it, too:

But back to the study.

To no one’s surprise, the researchers found that the microbiomes of the identical twins were more alike than those of the fraternal twins. “However,” as Discover reported,

the species of bacteria that were linked to heritability—the degree a trait is due to genetic variation—weren’t associated with the onset of cavities. Further, as kids age, the microbes they inherit from mom and dad decrease, while microbes introduced through the environment increase.

And, here’s the crux of the study: Researchers found no evidence that bacteria associated with the onset of cavities were driven by genetic factors. Rather, bacteria associated with cavities, like Streptococcus mutans, were in higher abundance in the mouths of kids who consumed more sugar, and vice versa. In other words, external factors tend to have an outsize role shaping the oral microbiome for the worse.

The happy news, of course, is that you’ve got control over those external factors.

  • You control your diet and that of your children.

  • You’re the one to practice good hygiene and teach good hygiene practices to your kids.

  • You’re the one to control stress and get enough sleep and enough physical activity – all factors that you might be surprised to hear play a role in your oral health. (We’ll be blogging more about them in future weeks.)

The number one thing you can do to control decay? Cut out the sugar. Although current WHO guidelines recommend a maximum daily sugar intake equal to 10% of your total daily calories, research has shown that to prevent cavities, that max should be 3% or less.

For a person who eats 2000 calories a day, it’s just 15.5 grams – less than half a 12-ounce serving of the typical non-diet soft drink.

It’s also helpful to reduce the amount of all fermentable carbohydrate that you eat. Along with sugar, these include flour-based products and other starches that begin to be digested in the mouth. They’re the preferred food of harmful bacteria, and what goes in comes out as acidic waste.

These acid conditions not only damage the enamel that protects your teeth. They reverse the flow of fluid within your teeth, making it flow inward – an pull acids and pathogens into your teeth.

You do have the power to prevent this.

Image by ISebestyen, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally posted 2017-09-28 07:00:44.

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