Risk of cavities may be linked to genes, new research shows

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New research reveals cavities may be something your parents passed on to you. (KABC)

Many things run in the family.

But for most people, the topic of genetics evokes such inherited traits as hair color or heart problems.

Now new research reveals cavities may be something your parents passed on to you.

Six-year-old Hoxie Flowers' mom, Jennifer Flowers, figured out a fun way to teach her autistic son how to take care of his teeth.

"It was hard in the beginning to brush his teeth, very hard," said Flowers.

She worries because cavities seem to run in her family.

Flowers said, "He's possibly prone like I am."

Professor Linda Niessen is increasingly convinced there is, in fact, a cavity gene.

"Dental research is showing us that in fact some people are much more prone to tooth decay or dental cavities than others," said Niessen.

National statistics show that -- gene or no gene -- we're getting more cavities than ever before.

"We saw it increasing in adults age 21 to 64, and we saw it in adults over age 65." said Niessen.

Whether or not you have the gene, Niessen says early and regular checkups can actually be lifesaving.

"An infection in the mouth, can in fact lead to an infection in the bloodstream, which can lead to death," she said.

If you're a parent who gets cavities, your child may be at high risk, so Niessen recommends using sealants.

"Sealants are a plastic coating the dentist places on the chewing surface of the teeth where cavities are most prone," Niessen said.

Adults should limit their caffeine intake, quit smoking, and keep their mouths hydrated.

Flowers said it made a huge difference to take her son to a dentist who specializes in children on the autism spectrum.

"Now he runs in and brushes his teeth. It's fun for him now," she said.

Some people have softer tooth enamel than others. The softer the enamel, the easier it is for bacteria to do their excavation, which leads to cavities.

Because genes are the primary determinant of enamel structure, they have a big effect on whether you get tooth decay.
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