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Nature vs Nurture, the Oral Health Edition

Americans have been fascinated by genes since the discovery of the double helix in the early 1950s. And before that, the rise of mendelian genetics made people wonder just how much influence inherited characteristics had on our lives. From increasing your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, in many ways, it seems, genes can dominate our lives.

According to a recent study published in Cell Host & Microbe, however, there is one important place where habit and environment seem to play a bigger role: our mouth.

Researchers looked into the role genes and environment play in oral health, and have determined that the condition of your teeth depends more on factors such as diet and hygiene rather than genes.

To determine the relative influence of genetics versus the environment, scientists looked at many types of bacteria in the mouth, including specific bacteria that protect us from tooth decay.

One of the most surprising findings was that this bacteria, which lives in our gums and is connected to certain genetic factors, can be significantly reduced with excessive sugar consumption. Meaning that diet and hygiene, especially within childhood, have greater effects on our oral health than our genes.

Two toothbrushes with toothpaste

Age vs Lifestyle

Another important finding in this study was the relationship between lifestyle choices and age. Genetically inheritable strains of bacteria that protect against tooth decay naturally decrease with age, while bacteria linked to lifestyle habits such as diet and poor oral hygiene increase.

Those with diets high in sugar are especially vulnerable. Candy, soda, and even many fruit or vegetable juices can cause a number of oral complications such as cavities and gum disease, which become more serious with age.

How Serious is Gum Disease?

Just as your skin protects your muscles, bones, and organs, your gums protect your teeth and the structure that holds them in place. While most young people are worried about cavities or staining, gum disease becomes a more serious health concern for older Americans.

In fact, beyond the cosmetic issues like receding gums, periodontitis has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and low-birth weight babies.

Preventing Gum Disease and Protecting Your Health

The good news is that most can prevent gum disease. Cutting back on sugar and practicing effective oral hygiene like daily brushing and flossing is a great first step, and regularly scheduling dental appointments is another.

The longer gum disease is left untreated, the more difficult, painful, and expensive it becomes. Because of the impact it can have on your overall health, untreated gum disease can cost you thousands of dollars in the care of related health conditions.

Help Us Help You

At the office of Dr. Nelson Clements, we want to do everything we can to help you stay healthy. But we can’t help with problems we don’t know about. Make sure to schedule a regular examination to prevent complications like gum disease.

To schedule your next appointment with Dr. Nelson Clements in Valdosta, GA, please call (229) 245-5511 today.

September 21st, 2017|Oral Hygiene|