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Study finds that dental caries are not genetic

A twin study from Murdoch Children's Research Institute has found that dental caries are influenced more by environmental factors than genetic factors. (Photograph: maxbelchenko/Shutterstock)

Thu. 28. September 2017


MELBOURNE, Australia: In the first large-scale study to look at the oral microbiome, researchers from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) have determined that an individual’s genes are not associated with the presence of bacteria responsible for dental caries. Rather, this is more greatly influenced by environmental factors like diet and oral hygiene habits.

To understand exactly the role of genetics in the make-up of the oral microbiome, the research team conducted a twin study. They profiled the supragingival plaque microbiome of 205 pairs of genetically identical twins and 280 sets of non-identical twins between 5 and 11 years old based on mouth swabs. From this, they concluded that, while certain components of oral microbiome composition are influenced by genetic background, these inherited bacteria are not linked to dental caries.

“There may be a perception in the community that bad teeth are inherited,” said study co-author Dr Jeff Craig, an associate professor at MCRI. “But this research is an important message because it means parents and children themselves can take control. We’re not doomed by genetics in tooth decay.”

The researchers also found that the level of inherited bacteria tended to decrease over time, whereas the bacteria associated with environmental factors increased. In light of these findings, Craig reiterated that limiting children’s intake of sugary foods and drinks, combined with a consistent oral hygiene routine, is the best way to prevent caries.

“One of the myths is that you don’t worry about your child’s oral health until the teeth come through,” said Craig. “Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent diseases in children, but it’s tragic because it’s preventable. It’s good to have preventative oral health, even before teeth appear.”

The study, titled “Host genetic control of the oral microbiome in health and disease”, was published online on 13 September in the Cell Host & Microbe journal.

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