As patients of Dr. Rita Feldmanis know, tooth decay and gum disease can play an enormous role in determining our long-term health. As we have previously covered on our blog, patient’s experiencing common oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease have a significantly higher risk for developing a range of chronic diseases that include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer. However, while researchers continue to learn more about the types of bacteria that create this mouth/body connection, the role genetics plays in causing oral health problems still remains largely unknown.
To uncover this mystery, an international team of researchers have begun trials that suggest hereditary traits and factors such as weight, education, and personality could all potentially play a role in the development of gum disease and tooth decay. The results of this study were recently in the journal Nature Communications.
The Oral Health Factor
Globally, gum disease and tooth decay rank as two of the most common illnesses in all cultures around the world. Despite this prevalence, researchers understand very little of how genes affect our risk of developing oral health problems. While we understand that two people who eat the same diet and who brush and floss with the same frequency may end up with a different number of cavities and overall gum health, researchers haven’t been able to explain why until now.
Led by a team of researchers from the Institute of Odontology at Umea University in Sweden, a new study was able to determine that a causal link exists between risk factors for tooth decay and cardiovascular disease.
Earlier research has suggested that a number of genes may play a role in creating a connection, but none had been previously confirmed. This was partly due to the fact that complex disease, such as gum disease and tooth decay, require large pools of data to develop any type of fact-based conclusion.
This recent meta-analysis study combined data collected as part of nine international clinical studies that involved the participation of 62,000 people, along with self-reported dental health data collected as part of the UK Biobank that involved over 461,000 participants. The combined pool of over 521,000 participants makes this study the largest of its kind. Researchers examined the collected data by scanning millions of strategic points in the human genome to identify genes that expressed links to oral disease.
Using this data pool, researchers were able to identify 47 new genes that exhibited a connection to tooth decay. The study also confirmed a previously known immune-related gene is linked to gum disease. Among the genes that researchers could link to tooth decay are those that also play a role in the development of our teeth and jawbone, those that play a protective role in saliva, and in those genes that affect the bacteria that grows on our teeth.
Researchers also examined the genetic link between heart disease and metabolic factors such as weight, education, smoking habit, and personality in an attempt to understand any potential connections to our oral health. Using a process known as Mendelian randomization, there does appear to be some type of connection between tooth decay and heart disease risk, but how close still remains hard to determine.
Protecting Your Health
As more research continues to uncover the role our oral health plays in determining our overall health, the importance of preventative dental care continues to grow. Even if genetics play a role in increasing our risk for certain oral health problems, much of that increased risk can be mitigated by practicing quality oral hygiene at home and by scheduling regular exams and cleanings with Dr. Rita Feldmanis.
Don’t underestimate the role your teeth and gums play in determining your health. Take the proactive approach by contacting our office today to schedule your next cleaning and dental exam, and have a smile you can have confidence in.