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Taste genes may predict caries risk

Taste genes may predict caries risk
Dr. Wright

The genetic codes that determine food preferences may also determine caries risk, according to a recent study.

Families recruited by the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia were evaluated with biological samples, demographic data and a clinical oral health examination to identify key genes that might be related to dental caries.

“Given the influence of dietary habits on dental caries, we hypothesized that taste pathway genes, such as genes for taste preference, might influence caries risk,” said the researchers.

The scientists analyzed the dental records of more than 2,400 patients—almost 500 with primary teeth, nearly 1,400 with permanent teeth and more than 560 with mixed dentition. The data showed a significant association with two genes, one that predicted caries risk and one that was associated with caries protection.

The study was published electronically by the Journal of Dental Research.

Dr. Tim Wright, Bawden Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry at Chapel Hill and vice-chair of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, called the study “interesting and groundbreaking.”

“Investigation of the role of taste preference in dental caries provides insight into the multifaceted behavioral factors that contribute to the etiology of dental caries,” said Dr. Wright. “The study by Steven et al., and the association of genetic variations in taste pathway genes and dental caries provides novel information on how an individual’s genetic constitution may help define behaviors associated with disease risk. Understanding the many factors involved in the etiology of dental caries, such as genetics, behavior, environment, biofilm and other contributing elements will ultimately allow us to provide more targeted and efficient preventive and restorative approaches for managing this highly prevalent disease.”

Dr. Wright’s editorial on the study, “Defining the Contribution of Genetics in the Etiology of Dental Caries,” was also published online Sept. 21 (

Emphasizing that caries “is the most prevalent childhood and chronic disease worldwide,” and it is influenced by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, including dietary habits, researchers said their ultimate goal was to use the study results to develop prevention and treatment strategies designed to target specific environmental modifications that address patients’ genetics—like taste preferences.