There are many risk factors that children share with their parents. For example, if your parents snored or had sleep apnea, it’s likely you will, too. But what about the risk of cavities and gum disease? Do children inherit that from their parents?

Sort of. But it’s complicated. And here’s the good news: most of this is under your control. You can protect your children from experiencing the dental problems you had as a child.

A father standing with his young daughter in the bathroom, brushing their teeth in the morning. It's possible that kid's can inherit bad teeth from their parents. That's why it's important to make oral health a priority in your house.

A New Study Gives Us Insight

A lot of the information we have about the role of genetics in health comes from twin studies. These studies look at identical twins–who have exactly the same genes–and see how similar or how different they are based on various lifestyle factors. Sometimes, studies might compare these to fraternal twins, who are born at the same time but have different genetic information. That’s what researchers did for a new study recently published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics. They recruited 250 twin pregnancies, and were able to give dental exams to a total of 345 twins at age 6. About a third of them had cavities, and nearly a quarter had advanced cavities.

However, when researchers compared the oral health of identical twins, they found it wasn’t any more similar than that of fraternal twins. This led them to conclude that cavity risk was mostly related to environmental factors, not genetics.

You Set the Table

Tooth decay is caused by many factors, but probably the biggest one is diet. Families often experience similar cavity risk because they tend to eat the same foods.

But this is something you can control. Sugar is the primary cause of tooth decay, so you can reduce your risk by reducing your sugar. If you tended to have soda or high-sugar Kool-Aid as a drink growing up, you don’t have to do that for your kids. Instead, you can make water or milk the normal drink with meals, keeping the sugary drinks for special treat meals.

You can also change some of the recipes that your parents used. Some of them probably have more sugar than is necessary.

Plus, it’s a good idea to change your snacking habits. Limit snacking between meals and encourage consumption of foods that are less likely to cause cavities: vegetables and proteins like eggs and nuts. You can even get kids in the habit of chewing sugar-free gum after meals and instead of snacking (but be aware that too much gum can put them at risk for TMJ).

Teach Your Children Well

Children often get their parents’ bad teeth because parents teach them oral hygiene. And if the parents don’t floss or don’t floss often, then children won’t either.

So it’s important to make sure your children know how to properly clean their teeth. Teach them how to brush and how to floss.

But there’s one more important step you need to do: you need to practice good oral hygiene. Kids will listen to what you say, but they’re more likely to do as you do. If you don’t brush regularly and never floss, your kids will know–and as soon as you stop making them brush and floss, they’ll stop doing it.

Your Germs Are Their Germs

To some extent, tooth decay and gum disease are communicable diseases. If you think about all the colds that your kids bring home from school and how everyone gets them, you know how this risk can be shared by the entire family.

But oral bacteria aren’t like cold germs. They mostly spread by direct exposure to saliva. So don’t let kids share your drinks, don’t let them eat with utensils you’ve used, and don’t “clean” your baby’s pacifier with your mouth.

Over time, they’ll probably get your mouth germs, in part because genetics influences which oral bacteria take up residence in your mouth.

You Can Pick Your Jeans, But You Can’t Pick Your Genes

But not all of the factors are in your control. There are still some genetic factors that influence your oral health. For example, some people are at higher risk for enamel defects that can put your teeth at risk. And your immune response to oral bacteria is a big factor in how your gum disease develops–and that’s largely genetic.

Brighter Smiles and a Brighter Future for Your Children

What happened to your parents’ teeth and to your teeth could be an indicator of what will happen to your kids’ teeth. But it doesn’t have to be. Working together, we can ensure that your children’s smiles and their future will be brighter.

You take care of the factors that you can influence like diet and hygiene. We’ll take care of the rest, with professional cleanings and checkups, plus gum disease treatment and restorative dentistry as necessary.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we can give you a brighter smile, too. You’re never too old to enjoy the benefits of a beautiful smile.

To learn more about maintaining the health and beauty of your family’s smiles, please call (614) 848-5001 today for an appointment with Columbus, Ohio dentist Dr. Mike Firouzian at Firouzian Dentistry.