The hope and purpose of this blog was to be topical on issues related to pediatric dentistry, specifically related to all of us out here in Katy, Texas!

Today’s topic:  Are cavities genetic?  Are some people destined to have cavities because of the family and genetics they are born into?

I love this question.  I get parents often telling me, “cavities just run in our family” or “our family just has bad teeth”!  I’ve even have had parent’s tell me, “bottle rot runs in our family”.

So here’s the deal:

Most cavities are NOT genetic.  What we pass down from generation to generation are habits and bacteria.  Today’s blog will focus on the bacteria aspect of cavities.  Children are born with a “sterile” mouth, if you will.  Until the teeth erupt, there is not a “host” for the bacteria that cause cavities.  The tooth is the host.  So at about the age of 6 months when the first tooth erupts, until about the age of 2.5 years old, the child is in the “window of infectivity”.  What this means is that as the child’s teeth erupt, the child’s mouth will colonize with bacteria.  This is normal and it happens to all of us.  There is no way to avoid a child colonizing with bacteria.  The question is, with what bacteria will they colonize?  This relates to the primary caregiver.  Who blows on the hot food?  Who wipes the pacifier clean with their own mouth when it drops in a weird place and baby needs it NOW?  Who gives daily doses of kisses to baby?  This person or persons would be considered the primary caregiver/s.

If the primary caregiver has untreated dental disease such as periodontal disease, or gum disease, or cavities, they have an advanced, aggressive oral flora.  These bacteria transferred to child are more aggressive.  Primary caregivers who are cavity free, and without gum disease have a healthier, less aggressive oral flora and pass these healthier bacteria onto their children.  So comparing two children from two different homes, one with healthy mouths, the other with lots of untreated dental disease, the child from the latter is much more likely to get cavities, all other things being equal.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances of genetically poorly formed teeth.  I will say that genetic issues with teeth are rare, almost always easily diagnosed, and often genetically traceable and accompanied by other issues related to the same gene.  It is just not as common as people think.

This is good news.  What it means is that even if you had/have a lot of cavities or gum disease in your family history, it doesn’t have to continue with your children.