Genetics and Oral Health

Can a genetic test predict your risk of developing future cavities or severe gum disease?
The answer, at this point in time, is no.

There are commercially marketed tests that claim to measure risk of disease or susceptibility to future disease. Predictive genetic tests look for clues in your DNA that could indicate whether you are at risk of developing certain diseases or medical conditions. For these tests, you are often asked to swab your cheek or mail a saliva sample back to a lab. The company follows up with results and may or may not provide a consultation with a medical professional.

However, just because you have a DNA “marker” associated with a particular disease, it does not mean you will ultimately develop the disease. That’s because there are many diseases, including cavities and gum disease, in which “environment” and “lifestyle” factors also play a role. In fact, these environmental and lifestyle factors control more of your risk of developing either cavities or gum disease than do any identified genetic marker.

Whether you regularly brush and clean between your teeth, what you eat and drink, whether you have had cavities in the past, and whether you use tobacco products—these are “environmental” or “lifestyle” factors that strongly affect your risk for developing gum disease or cavities.

While genetic testing may hold potential to improve predictions of future oral health, the tools your dentist already uses during an exam, including x-rays and probing measurements, are currently the best way to know where you stand in terms of your oral health today and what may lie ahead in the future.

Take an active role in preventing dental disease and keeping your mouth healthy by following these recommendations from the ADA:

For more in-depth information on this topic, please visit the ADA’s oral health topic page on genetics and oral health.