As researchers continue studying countless health conditions, they are finding that many problems have a genetic component. As we grow in our understanding of how to fight various health conditions, we know that one of the most important weapons is knowing specific areas of risk.
The genetic component of diseases can be either a predisposition or a true gene mutation. We will describe the difference and cover specific oral health conditions that fall under each category.
A genetic predisposition for a certain health condition means that scientists have found an increased risk for that condition among family members. It does not mean that there is a specific gene responsible for the disease (or at least not one that has been proven in reproducible research studies yet). Typically, a condition that has a genetic predisposition is one against which you can take preventive measures to lower your naturally increased risk for it.
With a genetic predisposition, you have an increased risk for having a specific health condition that others in your family have.
Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, does show a significant genetic predisposition. Commonly called gum disease, it is a chronic inflammatory disease in response to continual bacterial infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. The bacteria buildup on the teeth in the form of soft plaque and hard tartar, emitting toxins into the gums, ligaments, and bone.
Scientists do not yet know what leads to a genetic predisposition for gum disease. They have simply found that there is an increased prevalence of it among families.
Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder affecting the salivary and lacrimal glands, leading to severe dry mouth and dry eyes. This painful disorder can wreak havoc on the mouth, leading to a much higher risk for cavities, gum disease, and mouth sores. It has an unknown cause, but there does seem to be an increased risk for it for those whose ancestors suffered from the syndrome.
Oral cancer is not a genetic disease, and there are various types of oral cancer under this large umbrella. A study in the mid-1990’s showed that oral cancer does tend to gather in families. “Like other familial cancers, a family history of oral cancer was associated mostly with an early age of onset of the disease. Family members without habits such as tobacco chewing, smoking or alcohol consumption were also affected.”
This means that you may have a higher risk for getting oral cancer if family members have suffered from it. The comment about tobacco, smoking and alcohol points out that this genetic predisposition may override the traditional risk factors associated with oral cancer.
Genetic mutations are responsible for many diseases. In the case of the following oral health conditions, scientists have isolated the specific gene on which the mutation occurs and causes the dental problem. This is unlike a genetic predisposition, which is only an increased risk. A genetic mutation is typically a guarantee that the condition will occur. The following are not common, but they have the strongest effect on oral health. All influence the development of the teeth and/or jaws.
This genetic mutation causes a defect in the development of the core structure of the teeth, dentin. In many cases, it also affects the enamel surrounding the dentin. The word “dentinogenesis” simply means the formation of dentin. The teeth are weak and discolored, and it affects both baby teeth and permanent teeth.
One type of dentinogenesis imperfecta accompanies a genetic bone defect.
Extensive dental treatment is necessary to ensure healthy oral function throughout life.
A different but similar disease can affect the enamel of the teeth. Also caused by genetic mutation, amelogenesis imperfecta causes a defect in the formation of enamel. Affected people have weak, thin, yellow enamel that breaks and decays easily. There are many subtypes of this genetic disorder. This also requires extensive dental treatment to allow patients to function normally throughout life.
If you are a fan of Stranger Things, you are no stranger to this genetic disorder. Dustin, one of the show’s main characters, suffers from cleidocranial dysplasia. These patients tend to have missing teeth, and the teeth they do have are misshapen. Because of the problems this disease causes with bones, hearing, overall growth, etc… the dental issues often take a backseat.
More Questions about Genetic Oral Health Conditions?
The experts at Rockland Dental Specialists can answer any question you have about a genetic dental problem. Our goal is for every patient we see to have a completely healthy mouth. We will help you address any genetic problems and ensure long-term oral health.