A new study has found genetic make-up does not predispose people to tooth decay, however the research did find that children with overweight mothers are more likely to have cavities.
The paper, published in Pediatrics, estimates that one in three Australian children have tooth decay by the time they start school.
Lead researcher Dr Mihiri Silva, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said the study looked at the teeth of 173 sets of twins (identical and non-identical) from pregnancy through to six years of age.
“How genetics impacts on dental health has not often been studied,” Dr Silva said. “This is the first twin study that looks at both genetics and early-life risk factors, such as illness and lifestyle.
“We found that identical twins, with identical genomes, have varying degrees of decay. This means that environmental factors, like a lack of fluoride in water, seem to be the prime cause of cavities—not genetic make-up.”
However, Dr Silva said the research did find a link between the mother’s health and lifestyle during pregnancy and the child’s future dental health, with obesity in pregnancy a definite marker for increased risk of child tooth decay.
“The relationship between maternal obesity and child tooth decay is complex,” Dr Silva said. “Perhaps the mother’s weight has a biological influence on the developing fetus or perhaps the risk of decay rises because of increased sugar consumption in that household.”
One in three of the twins studied had dental decay, and almost one in four had advanced decay.
Dr Silva said it’s important that people don’t think of tooth decay as genetic. “If people think the health of their teeth is down to their genetic make-up, they may not be prepared to make important lifestyle changes.”