Those who are diligent about their oral health, making sure they brush twice daily and floss at least once per day, often see the fruits of their labor reflecting in their healthy, cavity-free teeth. Even so, despite such diligence, there are those who are more susceptible to cavities no matter how much they brush or floss.

However, the fault may not lie with the individuals themselves-it could very well be the result of their genes. As described in two papers by dental researchers hailing from University of Pittsburgh, specific genetic variations may be the root of both tooth decay as well as severe periodontitis.

According to senior author Alexandre Vieira, who is also an assistant oral biology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the cavity rate can be affected by polymorphisms (individual variations) in particular gene-beta defensin 1. Also called DEFB1, this gene is known to play a primary role in immediate immune responses against invasive gases.

Dr. Vieira stated in the initial paper, “We were able to use data collected from our dental registry and the DNA Repository – the only one of its kind in the world – to see if certain polymorphisms were associated with the development of caries [cavities]. ”

“This could help us find new ways to treat people who are particularly susceptible to tooth decay, a problem that afflicts millions of Americans,” Dr. Vieira continued. By examining almost 300 unidentified dental records as well as registry saliva samples, Vieira's team assigned all cases both a DMFT score (established by number of adult teeth missing, filled, or decided) and DMFS score (established by number of teeth decayed, missing, and with filled surfaces.)

Normally, people with fewer cavities have lower scores. Every saliva sample had one out of three variations, which were dubbed DEFB1 gene polymorphisms C-44G, G-20A, and G-52A. Vieira's team reported individuals with G-20A variations had DMFS and DMFT scores five-times greater than those with other variants. Specifically, G-52A variations often returned in the lowest DMFT scores.

The second paper saw Vieira's team collaborate with Brazilian researchers to examine 389 saliva samples, which were for people among 55 families. These samples were used for finding genetic links with severe periodontitis, known for rapid deterioration of the gums as well as being more commonly seen in individuals of African descent, per the paper.

Vieira's team reported discovering hints of a link between periodontitis and the FAM5C gene. As well, further experiments indicated raised amounts of FAM5C activation in spots of infected periodontal tissue when compared to normal tissue. “The FAM5C gene recently was implicated in cardiovascular disease, in which inflammatory plays a role, just as in periodontitis,” Vieira said. “More research is needed to see if variation in the gene is associated with different activity profiles.”

To play it safe, though, if dental problems run rampant in your family, you need to make sure you have an oral hygiene program set up as soon as possible with your dentist. It may not seem like much, but that bi-annual visit can help prevent not only serious oral health problems, but your health in general.