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Can You Inherit Bad Teeth?

Growing up, my parents always told me that, whenever I rejected a risky or uncomfortable pressure from friends, I could always blame it on them. And while now (as a parent) I can appreciate the spirit of where they were coming from, the question’s been asked, what can we really blame on our parents? 

Even though it doesn’t feel that way sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, genetics is a very new field of science. When researchers examine everything from height to cancer risk to your propensity to get cavities, how much you can blame on genes and how much you blame on environment is still up for debate. 

Can You Inherit Bad Teeth?

Before you blame your parents for your “bad teeth” or unexpected cavity at your next dental appointment, keep reading to discover more about what really could be a result of your genetics, and what is more likely a result of your own oral health habits. 

Crooked teeth 

Just look to the 4.5 million Americans who have braces to see that we are a nation of comprised of people with crooked teeth. 

If you had braces, your children are much more likely to need braces as well. Is that a link?  

Interestingly, most experts also agree that the true reason for our rising need for braces is thanks to how our jaws are changing over time. 

Over millennia, the human jaw has evolved to serve our needs. Unlike our prehistoric ancestors who needed large jaws to break down tough meet and roots, our jaws have shrunk to accommodate our soft-foods heavy diet. When we began to use utensil to cut foods down into small, manageable pieces and to mash tough vegetables, our mouths began to evolve. Today this means fewer teeth and smaller jaws. 

The effect of this can be seen with wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth were necessary when humans’ jaws were bigger (and food needed more chewing before swallowing safely). Smaller jaws today mean more crowding of the teeth and a higher likelihood of wisdom teeth being pulled and other teeth being crooked. So while we may not be able to directly blame your parents, there’s definitely a genetic factor at play when we talk about crooked teeth.  


For anyone who has ever dealt with a teething baby, we can all share the pain—both literally and figuratively—of not always knowing what pain or need is bothering the moody baby. 

If you are curious to know when your baby might start to sprout their teeth, the best thing you can do is ask your own parents and your partner’s parents about when the two of you teethed. The time when teeth emerge is one thing that is highly linked to genetics.  

Tooth decay 

Cavities can affect people of all ages. In fact, 90% of adults are walking around with tooth decay at this moment, and one in four people currently have an untreated cavity. 

Cavities are a result of plaque, which results from eating excess sugars and carbohydrates and not cleaning your teeth well. When the plaque attacks the enamel, it eventually wears it down, leaving your tooth vulnerable to bacteria and acid. If left unresolved, the bacteria can move through the layers of your tooth, causing decay at every level. 

At Dr. Marchbanks’ Arlington office, we commonly hear the excuse that a cavity is not the result of negligence, but due to having “soft teeth” that run in the family. Researchers have studied twins to this effect (both identical and fraternal) to determine the interplay of variables that affected the mouth when it comes to cavities. They found that genes did influence the composition of the oral microbiome (and it’s the bacteria that causes decay, meaning they’re linked). 

That said, while genetics were identified as an influencing factor in decay, there were other more influential factors. In fact, the species of bacteria that were found to be linked to heritability weren’t later associated with the onset of cavities. 

And to throw in another factor, as kids age, the microbes they inherit from mom and dad decrease while microbes introduced through their environment increase. So, the bottom line is “yes and no” when it comes to whether genetics really increase your odds for developing cavities.  

Gum disease 

According to one recent study, genetic factors may play a critical role in as many as half the cases of periodontal disease. Specifically, up to 30% of the population may have some genetic susceptibility to periodontal disease. 

For example, some patients with severe periodontal disease have genes that affect the immune factor interleukin-1 (IL-1), which is a cytokine (an antibody important to the body’s inflammatory response). These patients are up to 20 times more likely to develop advanced periodontitis than those without this gene. Early onset and rapidly progressive periodontal diseases also have strong genetic components. 

Oral cancer 

Lifestyle choices such as tobacco and alcohol use are the leading causes for the development of oral cancers. In addition, the risk of oral cancer increases with age (however, people younger than age 55 can develop the disease, too). 

Men are also twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer. There is a small hereditary risk as well. 

Some inherited genetic mutations that cause different syndromes in the body can also carry a higher risk of oral cancer. Historically, the death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high, not because it’s hard to diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. If you have a family history of oral cancer, it’s important you discuss your risk with your Arlington dentist. 

Next time you come to Mark C Marchbanks, D.D.S., tell us which of these issues you think you can blame on your parents!  

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