Healthy Beginnings

Are Bad Teeth Heredity?

Do you avoid smiling, or wince when you drink something too hot or too cold? You might blame your ancestors, but how much of a factor is your heritage in having “bad” teeth?

Genetic factors primarily influence the formation and growth of teeth. Many people never form a number of baby teeth. Still others never develop “wisdom” teeth (third molars that generally erupt between the ages of 17 and 25, but can remain buried under the gum and jawbone). Certain inheritable traits also result in tooth malformation and crowding.

Behavioral and environmental factors have more of an impact on oral health.

Not long ago, cavities in baby teeth weren’t considered worrisome. Studies show children with decay in their baby teeth are far more likely to develop decay and other problems in their permanent teeth. Initiating good preventative habits should begin early (see recommendations at the end of the article). Tooth decay (caries) is not inherited: it’s an infectious disease. Parents and others infect children with this cavity-forming bacterium through common contact.

Bad habits such as sipping coffee, tea, red wine, soda or fruit juice throughout the day, or smoking tobacco, can damage and stain tooth enamel.

Using illegal and some prescription drugs can weaken tooth structure and affect gum tissue. Many prescription and “over-the-counter” medications dry the mouth, resulting in a higher risk of decay. In addition, as we age, we have less saliva present in our mouths at night, reducing our natural defenses against tooth decay.

Avoiding negative behaviors and communicating regularly with your dentist when undergoing medical treatment can help protect and preserve your oral health.

Easy-to-follow practices address most common issues:

  • After age two, teeth should be brushed twice daily using an age-appropriate amount of fluoride-based toothpaste. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, turning it so that the bristles are at a 45 degree angle to the long axis of the teeth. Slant toward the gums making small circles or short back-and-forth strokes, gently inserting the bristles under the gum line to clean the crevice around each tooth.
  • The American Dental Association recommends children should be scheduled for their first dental visit at 6 months of age or as soon as the first tooth erupts. Parents should supervise brushing for children younger than six years old. For children younger than two, clean teeth using a soft cloth and water.
  • Hold a toothbrush with the thumb and tips of the first 3 fingers to apply the proper amount of pressure. Too much pressure can damage gums and necks of the teeth.
  • Replace toothbrushes every three months (more frequently if damaged).
  • Floss every day. Use unwaxed floss to clean under the gum line and between the teeth where brush bristles can’t reach.
  • Fluoride rinses may be recommended by your dentist (These are not recommended for use by children younger than age six).
  • Regular examinations and x-rays at a dental office provide a thorough picture of oral health and pinpoint problem areas for treatment to avoid more serious situations and repair damage.
  • Maintaining a well-balanced diet supports oral health and overall physical well-being.
  • Rinse your mouth or chew 100 percent xylitol-sweetened gum or mints following a meal to clear the mouth of debris and promote healthy saliva production. Xylitol is a special sugar that bacteria can’t ferment into acid, and has been shown to reduce tooth decay up to 70 percent.

For stained and poorly-formed teeth, consult a dentist about cosmetic treatments and referral to a qualified orthodontic specialist.

There is much we can do to improve the health and beauty of our teeth. With many treatment options available and using good practices to keep teeth clean, the future holds brighter smiles (and happier chewing) for all of us!

1. Care of Teeth for Children: HYPERLINK “”
2. Tooth Decay (caries) as infectious disease: HYPERLINK “”
3. Xylitol and Caries Prevention: HYPERLINK “”

For more info, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. J.S. McElhinney, III call (775) 525-8877.