You might have heard it before—someone blaming their frequent cavities on “bad genes” or complaining that their teeth aren’t as white as they’d like because white teeth don’t “run in the family.” Have you ever stopped to wonder how true those statements might be? If you’re considering a career as a dental assistant, you’ll probably be advising clients on how to care for their teeth at home or how to prevent cavities and potential problems with their teeth from occurring or getting worse. Make sure you’re giving clients the best advice by knowing the facts about what oral health problems can actually be inherited, and which ones are the result of potentially preventable environmental factors.
If You’re in a Dental Assistant Program, Here Are Some Ways Genetics Can Affect Oral Health
While most tooth problems cannot be blamed on genetics, there are a few ways that genetics can affect the health of our teeth. One way is with facial structure, an inherited trait that affects the structure of our jaw and the shape of our teeth. Uneven jaws can lead to malocclusions or bite problems, such as underbites or overbites, which can create problems when it comes to chewing or grinding teeth. As a dental assistant, you may encounter clients whose facial structure causes their teeth to be misaligned, causing overcrowding. This makes these teeth harder to reach when brushing or flossing.
Missing teeth can also be an inherited condition. Adontia refers to the lack of some permanent teeth, while hypodontia is when a client lacks all permanent teeth. Both of these conditions can leave the gums and jaws prone to issues. Lastly, genetics can have an effect on the development and quality of our enamel, the protective layer on the tooth made from dentin. Genetics can affect whether our enamel is thick or thin, determined by whether the dentin on our teeth mineralizes normally. If it’s thin, this can cause teeth to be more prone to developing cavities, sensitivities, and other forms of damage.
Common Tooth Problems That Genetics Aren’t Responsible For
If you’re in a dental assistant program, you probably know that there are certain things we can do that can make our teeth more prone to cavities and decay. Attrition, caused by clenching the jaw or grinding teeth, can lead to the erosion of enamel and make teeth more vulnerable to decay. Abfraction, or stress fractions in the teeth caused by bending or flexing the tooth, can make teeth susceptible to bacteria, which can enter these tiny cracks that toothbrushes or floss can’t reach. Abrasion, often caused by brushing teeth too aggressively, is another way your enamel can wear away and lead to decay. Tooth decay is also commonly caused by corrosion, which occurs with the consumption of acidic foods and drinks that corrode the tooth’s enamel.
Genetics can play a role in our oral health, but more often than not, it’s our day-to-day habits and the resulting wear and tear that typically cause the problems we face with our teeth. If a client’s oral health problems aren’t caused by genetic factors, advise them to consume less acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated sodas and juices containing citrus. Clients should drink more water, avoid sugary foods, and, as always, floss and brush their teeth consistently.
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