Genetics and Oral Health: Hereditary Dental Disorders in Children

Genetics influences the oral health of children. We'll tell you how heredity favors the appearance of dental disorders. Keep reading!
Genetics and Oral Health: Hereditary Dental Disorders in Children
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 01 February, 2024

Can children inherit dental disorders from their parents? Does genetics influence the oral health of children? The truth is that there’s a link, and we’ll tell you all about it below.

Specific disorders that manifest themselves in the mouth can be inherited by children. At the same time, genes also play a role in determining certain characteristics of the oral cavity that can increase or decrease the chances of developing common oral diseases. Keep reading for more information in this regard.

Can dental disorders be inherited?

Yes, some dental problems can be inherited. As mentioned above, genetics play a role in oral health. Genes can cause specific abnormalities in the mouth or encourage the development of certain dental disorders.

Because of heredity, some children may be more likely to experience certain oral problems. This doesn’t mean that all children of parents with dental disorders will inherit the same conditions, but it does increase the likelihood of developing certain conditions.

The American Dental Association (ADA) explains that no specific gene has yet been identified that has a major impact on the occurrence of cavities or gum disease. It adds that many of the common diseases aren’t inherited as a single genetic defect but are the result of gene-environment interactions.

The combination of genetic predisposition with negative external factors, such as poor oral hygiene or inadequate diet, leads children to develop problems in the mouth.

However, heredity is involved in the appearance of certain specific oral abnormalities or systemic syndromes that have manifestations in the mouth. Studies show that genes influence the growth of the teeth and jaws, thus conditioning their normal development.

Hereditary dental disorders in children

Genes are involved in the process of formation and growth of all the structures of the mouth. Alterations in the genes involved in these processes can give rise to abnormalities in the teeth and jaws.

Over- or undersized teeth, abnormally shaped or sized teeth, weak dental tissues, and alterations in tooth eruption are some examples. Some of the anomalies in teeth are manifested in isolation. On the other hand, other times, they’re another manifestation of a syndromic picture.

The list of oral conditions of hereditary origin is extensive. The following are the most representative ones.

  • Amelogenesis imperfecta: Characterized by the abnormal development of tooth enamel. Teeth are weak, discolored, and prone to fracture.
  • Dentinogenesis imperfecta: This disorder affects the formation of dentin. Affected teeth have a translucent or bluish-brown appearance and are also weak and prone to breakage.
  • Dental agenesis: This is the absence of one or more teeth, either primary or permanent, because they haven’t formed.
  • Ectodermal dysplasia: This genetic condition alters the development of the tissues that come from the ectoderm, including the teeth. It’s common for children with this problem to have missing or underdeveloped teeth.

A publication in Acta Odontológica Venezolana identifies syndromes and systemic diseases that alter the chronology of tooth eruption. These affect the size and shape of the jaws and teeth and present other manifestations at the level of the oral cavity. Below are some examples of them.

  • Osteogenesis imperfecta
  • Albright syndrome
  • Down syndrome
  • Cherubism
  • Cleidocranial dysplasia
  • Craniofacial dysostosis
  • Teacher Collins syndrome
  • Pierre Robin syndrome
  • Hollermann-Streiff syndrome

How do genetics influence your child’s oral health?

In addition to producing the specific anomalies mentioned above, genes also influence the characteristics of the mouth. Therefore, heredity plays a major role in some aspects of oral health.

The quality of tooth enamel structure, for example, is determined by genes. This tissue can be more or less resistant to the action of acids from bacterial plaque. Weak enamel predisposes children to developing caries. Genes also influence the preference for certain tastes that produce more pleasure.

As a study published in the journal European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences reveals, children may over-consume sweets because they inherit an inclination toward sugary foods, and this increases their risk of developing tooth decay.

The composition and secretion of saliva are also determined by heredity. It has been suggested that genes determine the protective properties of this fluid, and, therefore, its characteristics vary from one person to another.

The microbiome is the set of bacterial communities that exist in the mouth and vary according to their location. The immune system’s response to these colonies helps to maintain a balance that prevents disease.

But the efficiency of immunity depends, among other things, on genes. Therefore, some children are more susceptible to problems caused by bacteria in their mouth.

Oral health problems in children influenced by genetics

Genes determine the characteristics of the mouth, the development of the jaws, the eruption of teeth, the quality of dental tissues, food preferences, and the properties of saliva, among many other things. Depending on these particularities of their mouth, some children have a higher risk of suffering from the following diseases.

  • Dental cavities: Having a diet dominated by sweets, saliva with few protective properties, a weakened immune system, or altered enamel favors the development of cavities in children.
  • Dental malocclusions: Misalignment of the teeth and jaw can be hereditary. Genes determine how much and how bones grow and where teeth are placed.
  • Gum problems: Alterations of the gum tissue are greater in children with susceptibility to inflammation or with an altered immune response to bacteria present in the mouth.
  • Dental sensitivity: Suffering intense pain or discomfort when consuming cold, hot, sweet, or acidic foods or drinks may be due to enamel with a defective structure for genetic reasons.

Genetics isn’t solely responsible for dental disorders

Although genetics is a factor that increases the risk of children suffering from some oral health problems, it’s not the determining factor. Poor oral hygiene, an unhealthy diet, the presence of unhealthy oral habits, and the lack of dental advice from a professional also play a role in the appearance of these disorders.

Committing to the care of children’s mouths is essential to keep their smiles healthy, regardless of hereditary factors.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.