As with so many things to do with our health, it’s not genetics that matter, but the environment. Whether we can inherit “bad teeth” from our parents is still unclear. Evidence to date suggests that most issues crop up because of environmental factors – stuff that we can control – not deterministic biology.
Take a look at these examples of bad teeth and the extent to which your parents might be to blame.
Yellow teeth are a big problem during an age in which nothing less than pristine pearly white will suffice.
There are many reasons for yellow teeth. Some, as you might imagine, are genetic. Genes program teeth to incorporate more substances into the enamel, making it appear duller. This yellowing is intrinsic to the tooth and there’s not much you can do about it.
Most of the causes of tooth yellowing, however, are entirely environmental. Smoking, for instance, will stain the teeth and increase the chances of decay by fostering the growth of harmful bacteria. Similarly, eating a diet full of sugar will slowly erode the white enamel, revealing the yellower dentine in the core of the tooth.
The trick to making your teeth less yellow is to follow healthy lifestyle habits. Where possible, refrain from eating sugar and don’t smoke. Try, if possible, to drink tea through a straw as it can stain your teeth if it comes in direct contact with them.
There are environmental factors that can play into the yellowness of your teeth also. These include things like conditions in the womb and even the level of toxic substance exposure.
Tetracycline antibiotics used in childhood can also have a profound effect on the color of teeth. Some people can develop a yellowing or greying of the teeth than no amount of whitening treatment will fix.
Why do some people have crooked teeth, and others don’t? The answer from science seems to suggest that it, like yellow teeth, is a combination of genetics and the environment.
The arrangement of teeth in the gums is fundamentally genetic – at least to start. Teeth, however, can migrate, depending on how we eat, the forces as we chew, and even our speaking and breathing habits.
If you used a dummy when you were a child, you’re at a higher risk of crooked teeth. The same applies if you sucked your thumb. Interestingly, many dentists believe that if the position of our teeth was genetically determined, using orthodontics to realign them wouldn’t work. They’d just shift back to their original position. Most of the time, though, that doesn’t happen.
In short, you can probably blame your parents for your crooked teeth. They should have intervened earlier to stop you from sucking your thumb or making excessive use of pacifiers.
When it comes to teeth problems, tooth decay is the big one – something that affects most of us at some point during our lives.
Whereas the preceding two bad teeth problems are unavoidable, tooth decay is not. If you have decay, it is probably your fault. Sorry.
Tooth decay comes from two sources. The first is failing to maintain good oral hygiene standards. If you eat a regular western diet with plenty of sugar, brushing twice per day probably isn’t enough. Brushing after every meal and using interdental brushes between the teeth is probably the safest option.
The second is the diet itself. By eating sugar every day, most people continuously pour fuel on the fire, encouraging decay all day long. Is it any surprise, therefore, that they wind up with tooth decay issues?
The science of tooth decay has progressed tremendously over the past few years. Dentists increasingly accept that the mouth contains both good and bad bacteria, like the gut. The good bacteria complement our health, and the bad harm it. The idea right now is to eat foods that encourage the growth of these good bacteria and keep the detrimental ones at bay. Where possible, people should avoid sugar and bakery products made of small flour particles, like white bread, pastries, and so on. Instead, they should consume more in whole foods, like whole fruits, vegetables, and beans. These foods seem to naturally protect the teeth and prevent the spread of decay.
It’s Not Just About Bacteria
While bacteria are the trigger for tooth decay, they aren’t the sole cause. Sometimes genetics do play a role.
Suppose, for instance, that your teeth are a little crooked. Many people don’t see this as a problem, believing that as long as they brush their teeth correctly, they’ll avoid decay. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Bacteria can get into gaps you can’t reach with brushing, allowing them to grow and multiply. Eventually, the bacteria build up so much that plaque makes its way below the gum line, leading to periodontal disease and pain.
Crooked bottom teeth are probably genetic and tend to run in families. It would be a little unfair to place the blame on your parents for this. The good news, though, is that you can deal with misaligned teeth pretty quickly. A few months of wearing a brace, and they’ll migrate to the perfect position, cutting the risk of decay in midlife.
The good news is that even if you do have problematic teeth, you don’t have to put up with them. In today’s high-tech world, dentists can fix just about any problem. Dr. Mace, for instance, says that people have a variety of tools at their disposal; everything from veneers to full mouth reconstructions. In short, it doesn’t matter what state your teeth are in, modern dentistry can reconstruct your smile front scratch, giving you beautiful teeth you’ll want to show off.
In A Nutshell
So what’s the conclusion to all this?
First and foremost, you no longer need to walk around with a set of teeth in your mouth you hate. Modern dentistry is a miracle worker and can restore practically any smile.
Second, you can’t always blame your parents for the state of your teeth. Most of the time, the way your teeth look has to do with your lifestyle. The decisions that you make today can profoundly affect how your smile will look twenty years from now.
If you want to avoid decay, here are some general rules of thumb:
- Cut down your consumption of refined sugar, preferable to zero. Even low levels of sugar passing through the mouth can change your microbiome unfavorably
- Brush twice per day for two minutes, using a timer and the correct technique. Frequently use interdental brushes to remove plaque stuck between teeth
- Where possible, eliminate smoking as this damages both the teeth and gums and puts you at a higher risk of tooth decay
- Seek orthodontic treatment early to prevent issues from cropping up later in life
- Brush both your gums and teeth to prevent plaque bacteria migrating below the gumline
- Don’t chew tobacco
Third, it’s worth pointing out that the state of your teeth relates to both environment and genetics. Strangely, the habits you had when you were young can determine the state of your adult teeth considerably. In some cases, parents are to blame, but not all.
Finally, the majority of tooth problems have to do with decay – that’s what keeps people having to go back to the dentist every couple of months. Most professionals, however, believe that it is entirely preventable and put the blame squarely on your shoulders for not following basic oral hygiene rules, not your parents.