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Can gum disease be hereditary?

Gum disease affects a large proportion of New Zealanders at some point in their life – whether in the form of mild gingivitis or severe periodontitis. The most recent New Zealand Oral Health Survey revealed over a third of Kiwi adults had periodontal pockets (spaces between the gum and teeth) of four millimetres or more on at least one tooth.

If you're struggling with gum disease, you might like to know where it comes from. Or, if you're expecting children, whether you're likely to pass it on to your kids.

Let's discuss the genetic factors of gum disease.

What is gum disease?

Periodontitis is a complex condition, not easily traceable to a single genetic factor.

There are two main stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a mild inflammation of gums caused by agitation at the hands of plaque. You can treat it yourself through proper brushing and flossing.

Periodontitis, however, is more serious. This is the result of heavy build-up of tartar which must be removed by a dental hygienist. Tartar can create pockets around your teeth which, if left untreated, can lead to the loss of tissue, teeth or even bone.

This disease can be broadly classified as chronic or aggressive. Chronic periodontitis is more common and characterised by a slow break down of periodontal tissue (gums), whereas aggressive periodontitis is rarer but far more rapid. Aggressive cases generally present in children and must be quickly treated with antibiotics and potentially invasive procedures.

Is periodontal disease hereditary?

It is commonly thought that there may be some genetic component to the development of gum disease. A 2012 literature review regarding genetic perspectives toward periodontitis, published in the Brazilian Oral Research journal, suggests our genes may play some role in determining how susceptible we are to gum disease.

For example, one study in the Journal of Periodontology compared the oral hygiene of identical and fraternal twins. The results showed that identical twins were also more likely to have similar periodontal health compared to non-identical twins. The study claims that susceptibility to gum disease is therefore half the result of genetics, and otherwise due to external factors.

Periodontitis is a complex condition, not easily traceable to a single genetic factor. A combination of elements are thought to contribute to susceptibility, both genetic and environmental. This means that if you suffer from chronic periodontitis there is some chance your children could experience similar difficulties as they grow up.

What's most important is to recognise that you can control the environmental factors to prevent your child from developing problems by teaching them healthy habits.

The health of your child's gums can be affected by hereditary susceptibility to gum disease.The health of your child's gums can be affected by hereditary susceptibility to gum disease.

How can I prevent periodontal disease?

Whether for yourself or your child, preventing gum disease is easy.

While genetic predisposition may mean you're more likely to develop gum disease, this can only happen if the relevant environmental factors – such as poor oral hygiene and plaque build-up – are allowed to thrive.

The best way to combat gum disease is therefore to stay on top of your (and your child's) oral health. Follow these steps to prevent the development of periodontal disease.

1. Maintain an excellent oral health routine

Brush your teeth and floss twice a day. Use a fluoride toothpaste, soft-bristled brush and circular motions along your teeth. Holding the bristles at a 45 degree angle from your gum line ensures you can brush away the plaque which may build up in periodontal pockets.

Flossing is necessary to remove the plaque between your teeth. If you struggle with flossing, it's a good idea to talk about this with your dentist as they may be able to suggest more pleasant ways to floss.

2. Be mindful of what you expose your gums to

Cigarette smoke, sugary foods and pressure from grinding your teeth are all factors that can agitate your gums or help plaque prosper. Pay attention to your habits and diet to reduce your risk of gum disease.

3. Talk to a dentist

Finally, the importance of professional oral health advice shouldn't be overlooked. Book an appointment with City Dentists online or call 04 978 4964 to schedule a time to discuss your gum health.