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The Connection Between Bad Teeth and Genes

Updated on: July 21, 2021
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As kids, we were told that a beautiful set of teeth comes from good oral hygiene. We were repeatedly reminded to do these things: 

  • brush teeth twice a day
  • floss
  • avoid too much sugar consumption
  • get regular dental checkups

But how do we explain crooked, weak, or discolored teeth as adults?

Dental experts think there might be a connection between bad teeth and genetics. Your parents may not only have passed on the genes that determine your eye color and height. You may also have inherited the genes that increase your risk for dental problems.

Are bad teeth genetic?

Your genes dictate your bone structure, the shape of your mouth, and its size. If your parents have crooked teeth, it’s most likely you’ll have the same problem, too. This is usually handed down from generation to generation. Genes control how teeth develop naturally. Sometimes, teeth may not properly form, resulting in crooked or weakened teeth because of tooth enamel issues.

Similarly, some genes influence your preference for sweets. This is according to Mary L. Marazita, director of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine's Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics. The stronger your liking for sweets is, the higher your chance of developing tooth decay. 

Saliva production is also determined by genetics. Some people produce less saliva than others - and this can cause decay, cavities, and gum recession.

The American Dental Association (ADA) believes that many common oral problems are caused by genetics and environmental factors. While genetic factors play a role in oral health issues, your parents are not entirely to blame. Your dental hygiene - proper brushing and flossing - is also important.

While crooked teeth are hereditary, bad oral care habits are not. 


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Genes that affect dental health

The table below lists down specific genes, the role they play in dental health, and the disease they’re associated with. This is not a complete list of genes. However, knowing these can help you identify your risk factors for dental problems. This list also establishes the fact that genes indeed play a role in dental health.

GeneRoleDisease Caused
AmeloblastinEnamel matrixCavities, dental fluorosis
AmelogeninTooth mineralizationAmelogenesis imperfecta, cavities, molar incisor hypomineralization
Beta-defensin 1Microbial protectionCavities
Carbonic Anhydrase VISaliva PH regulationCavities
EnamelinEnamel matrixAmelogenesis imperfecta, cavities, molar incisor hypomineralization
Kallikrein 4Enamel matrix strengtheningHypomaturation amelogenesis imperfecta
Matrix metalloproteinase 16Degradation of extracellular proteinsCavities
Mucin 5Biofilm formation inhibitionSusceptibility to cavities

Oral health conditions that can be hereditary

The following oral health problems are partly influenced by genetics. These can be inherited from your parents. If your parents have any one of these conditions, it greatly increases your risk of developing them, too. Mention this when talking to your dentist.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is present in up to 30% of the population. It is characterized by sensitive and inflamed gums. Gum disease is often linked to tooth decay. If left without proper management and treatment, this condition can lead to tooth and bone loss. 

If gum disease is an ever-present problem in your family, tell your dentist about it.

Tooth Decay

There are more than ten genes associated with the development of dental caries, cavities, and tooth decay. If you have children at greater risk of developing cavities, it’s best to talk to their dentist about cavity prevention. Fluoride treatments and sealants may work for them.

High-risk adults can benefit from using mouth rinses or prescription toothpastes that dental professionals recommend. Tooth decay won’t go away on its own. Ignoring it will only aggravate gum disease. Frequent dental checkups and cleanings coupled with good oral hygiene can prevent the worsening of any oral health condition and avoid tooth loss.

Weak Teeth 

In a condition known as Amelogenesis Imperfecta, gene mutations can cause enamel problems. Enamel is a protective layer that covers a tooth's outer layer. A thinner enamel generally causes the tooth to weaken and break easily. This is because it lacks the protection needed to fight oral bacteria and germs that cause cavities and tooth decay.

The American National Institute of Health says that approximately 14,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Amelogenesis Imperfecta.

Oral Cancer

This is a deadly disease that causes thousands of deaths in the United States every year. Although alcohol use and tobacco use are said to be the main culprit, genetics play a role, too. 

Some people carry certain genetic markers that increase their risk of developing oral cancer. The best way to lower the risk is to eat healthily, stop smoking, and drink alcohol in moderation.

Crooked Teeth

Tooth misalignment causes crooked teeth that sometimes lead to the need for braces. Genetics is responsible for this because it determines the size of the jaw. Crooked teeth can cause underbites, overbites, gaps, and crowding.

For people with family members with tooth misalignment, an early visit to the orthodontist would be helpful. This is true especially for young patients who are in the early stages of tooth development. The best time to go is when baby teeth have started to fall out, and permanent teeth have begun erupting. 

Tooth Color

Dentinogenesis Imperfecta is a genetic disorder that affects one in 6,000-8,000 people. This causes teeth discoloration, which makes teeth appear yellow-brown or translucent blue-gray

This condition not only causes teeth discoloration but also leads to the weakening of the teeth. Baby teeth and adult teeth are both at risk for Dentinogenesis Imperfecta. 

What to do when you have bad teeth

Bad teeth are the result of the combination of the following:

  • environmental factors
  • genetics
  • bad habits related to oral health

If you have bad teeth, no matter what the cause is, your dentist will tell you these: 

  • brush your teeth twice a day
  • use fluoridated toothpaste
  • floss
  • get regular dental checkups
  • have frequent cleanings 

Also, avoid sugary food and drinks, don’t chew on ice, stop smoking, drink a lot of water, and limit alcohol intake. If you’re wearing dentures, learn how to clean them properly. 

Lastly, seek the advice of a dental health professional. Taking care of your teeth and mouth is easy if you know what to do.


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