Does weak enamel run in families?

Weak enamel

Does weak enamel run in families? Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body. It protects your inner tooth (the dentin and pulp) from decay. Mature enamel consists of 96 percent minerals, 3 percent water, and 1 percent organic material. It is hard and tough, yet tooth decay or childhood caries remain a chronic disease in this country. Caries begins on the surface of the tooth enamel and is initiated by pathogenic bacteria. As these microorganisms feed off of sugars and food residue remaining on the tooth surface they release acids that dissolve tooth enamel. There are conflicting research reports on this. Research indicates that the rate of caries is caused by not only dental hygiene and nutrition but by genetics as well.

The American Dental Association Research

According to the American Dental Association only about one percent of the adult population is immune to tooth decay. Therefore, the rest of us need to diligently care for our teeth. Tooth decay is difficult to avoid, as is the common cold. We try to avoid tooth decay by removing the mixture of harmful bacteria, food debris, and acids that form plaque by brushing our teeth twice a day and flossing daily. The dental organization says, weak enamel or not, good hygiene is the best way to prevent problems.

Do genes cause weak tooth enamel?

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation analyzed genetic and intraoral data from nearly 400 children and 700 adults. It was found that keratins, which are proteins associated with the strength of hair shafts, are linked to dental caries. Individuals with mutations in certain hair keratin genes were prone to higher rates of dental caries. Tooth analysis of individuals that carried a variant of one of the keratin genes showed a reduction of enamel hardness and an altered enamel structure. Results of the study indicated that abnormal keratin gene structure associated with hair disorders may also be a major factor in the development of caries by compromising the integrity of the individual’s tooth enamel.

The Genetics of Tooth Decay

An astonishing 60 percent of tooth decay risk may be related to genetics, according to Mary L. Marazita, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Her interview appeared in a 2014 article in CNN. She described five factors that are genetically related to tooth decay.

Preference for sweets:

Our diets play an important role in oral health. Individuals who refrain from sugary and processed foods tend to have lower incidents of tooth decay and gum disease. Sugar-laden foods cause higher levels of acidity in the mouth that directly lead to erosion of enamel. Our preference for sweets is partly informed by certain gene variants.

Enamel strength:

Our genes determine our height, hair color, and, yes, enamel size and strength. The hardness of tooth enamel varies from person to person, and most of that variation can be attributed to genes. Weak enamel does run in families but is only a very minor part in cavity susceptibility.

Taste ability:

Most of us may not be familiar with the term “taste ability,” but scientists use the term to describe an individual’s ability to discern unique flavors. Some individuals perceive cilantro as tasting like soap, for example, due to a specific gene. Our taste ability is shaped by genetics, and it largely informs the type of diet we choose.


Saliva plays an important role in oral health by aiding in the remineralization of enamel. Some individuals have saliva that is better suited to aiding in this process, and that variation can be attributed to genetics. An excellent way to increase saliva flow is to chew gum sweetened with xylitol.


Microbial ecology is a field of study that examines how bacteria impacts our physical and oral health. Bacteria can actually aid in maintaining oral health, depending on the type of bacteria that populate your mouth. Genetics plays an important role in determining which microbes live on your teeth and gums.

While the role of genetics is hard to overstate, the CNN article noted that oral hygiene habits like brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist for cleanings and exams are also critical to preventing tooth decay. If your family has a history of cavities, you may be predisposed to developing dental caries. During your visit with Dr. Fondriest, you can ask about the role genetics play in your oral health. Patients who have softer enamel may benefit from more frequent cleanings, for example. Dental sealants and fluoride treatments can counteract the adverse effects of genetically softer enamel. 

Learn more about weak enamel and the genetics of getting cavities

Dr. Fondriest will develop a customized and long term plan based on your unique tooth characteristics. Remember, genetics are one factor, not the factor when it comes to maintaining optimal oral health. We urge you to look past your genes and start good cavity prevention habits.

Aside from providing dependable general and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is a former adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. 

Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from Chicago and surrounding communities. To schedule a consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517. Our practice mostly serves the Chicago metropolitan area including the North Shore and Northwest suburbs, but we often get patients from all over the United States.