Do you Have the Cavity Gene?


MIAMI. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — You’ve heard it countless times: it runs in the family. But usually people are talking about the color of your hair or problems with your heart. However, a dental decay gene may also be something your parents have passed along to you.

Six-year-old Hoxie Flowers’ mom, Jennifer, figured out a fun way to teach her autistic son how to take care of his teeth.

“It was hard in the beginning to brush his teeth, very hard,” Jennifer told Ivanhoe.

Jennifer worries because cavities seem to run in her family.

“He’s possibly prone like I am,” said Jennifer.

Professor and Dean of Nova Southeastern University Linda Niessen, DMD, MPH, is increasingly convinced there is, in fact, a cavity gene.

“Dental research is showing us that in fact some people are much more prone to tooth decay or dental cavities than others,” detailed Dr. Niessen.

National statistics show gene or no gene, we’re getting more cavities than ever before.

Dr. Niessen said, “We saw it increasing in adults age 21 to 64 and we saw it in adults over age 65.”

Whether or not you have the gene, Dr. Niessen said early and regular checkups can actually be lifesaving.

“An infection in the mouth, can in fact lead to an infection in the bloodstream, which can lead to death,” Dr. Niessen told Ivanhoe.

If you’re a parent who gets cavities, your child may be at high risk, so Dr. Niessen recommended using sealants.

“Sealants are a plastic coating the dentist places on the chewing surface of the teeth where cavities are most prone,” said Dr. Niessen.

For adults: limit your caffeine, quit smoking, and keep your mouth hydrated.

Jennifer said it made a huge difference to take Hoxie to a dentist who specializes in children on the autism spectrum.

“Now he runs in and brushes his teeth, it’s fun for him now,” detailed Jennifer.

Experts believe diagnostic tests that measure salivary flow to determine tooth decay risk will one day be available. Remember, dental schools offer services at a much lower cost. For more information go to

Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Judy Reich, Videographer.

REPORT #2429

BACKGROUND: When foods with carbohydrates like bread, soda, fruit, or candy stay on your teeth, the bacteria in your mouth turn them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris, and your saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel, creating holes called cavities. Many think only children get cavities, but this is an adult problem too. The gums pull away from the teeth because of age or sometimes gum disease, which exposes the roots of the teeth to plaque. Seniors often have a lot of dental work because they didn’t get fluoride or good oral care when they were kids. Over the years, their fillings can weaken teeth and break. Bacteria gather in the gaps and cause decay. Treatment depends on the severity of the cavity, but dentists will often remove the decayed portion of the tooth with a drill, and then put in a filling.


THE STUDY: Even with careful brushing and flossing, some people are more prone to cavities because of genetics. About 60% of the risk for tooth decay appears to be due to genetic factors, says Mary L. Marazita, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Genetics play a part in several ways. A study from the Oxford Academy measured “taste ability”; a measure of the variety of things you can taste. Studies show the greater the variety in your genetic taste ability profile, the less likely you are to develop tooth decay. Some people have softer tooth enamel than others. The softer the enamel, the easier it is for bacteria to do their excavation, leading to cavities. Because genes are the primary determinant of enamel structure, they have a big effect on whether you get tooth decay. In your mouth there are separate communities of bacteria on your tongue, on the surface of your teeth, and below your gum line. Together, these communities make up what is known as your microbiome. Your body’s immune response to these communities affects your risk of developing tooth decay.


SERIOUSNESS OF DENTAL HYGIENE: Many do not realize the seriousness of dental hygiene. Cavities are extremely common and can be fixed fairly easily, but if they are ignored it could result in severe infections. Deamonte Driver, a twelve year old boy from Maryland, had an untreated cavity that became an abscess and resulted in a brain infection. His family was poor and had limited access to resources, so his cavity was ignored. After two surgeries and weeks of hospital care, it was still too late. The boy passed away from something that might have been avoided if he was provided with proper dental care. Professor Linda Niessen from Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine says that tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood, and children should not have to die from cavities.   


* For More Information, Contact:

Linda Niessen, DMD, MPH                            Marla Oxenhandler                                 


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