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ADA puts genetic testing and oral health in context for dentists

April 21, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

What role does genetics play when it comes oral health? The ADA released in April an evidence-based summary of information related to this question for dental professionals.

The topical page covers basic genetic principles, genetic testing and using genetic information in clinical decision-making in dentistry. The Genetics and Oral Health page, available on the ADA’s Oral Health Topics’ webpage, is intended to serve as a clinical resource for dentists and other health professionals when it comes to answering patients’ questions about genetics and oral health.

Visit to see the report.

The information helps frame and address some of the questions dental professionals are facing regarding the utility of genetic tests for predicting risk of oral disease. The ADA has learned of reports that genetic testing has become available that purportedly determines whether a patient is at risk for developing severe periodontitis. As a consequence, patients may be bringing in the test results to show their dentists with questions about the interpretation of these results.

The Oral Health Topic page explains that no predictive test for dental caries or periodontal disease currently exists, and that while genetic testing holds potential for clinical application in the future, clinical measurements remain, for now, the best approach to assessment of caries and periodontal disease.

“A genetic test may claim to be predictive, but this is not currently the case,” said Dr. Rebecca Slayton, a coauthor of the topical page and a member of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.  “If the patient has a test result that is positive for a genetic susceptibility factor, it is an opportunity to talk to the patient about all the ways they can minimize their risk through diet, oral hygiene and other environmental modifications.”

Indeed, the other key points of the topical page are that many common diseases are not inherited as a single gene defect, but instead result from gene-environment interactions. No gene to date has been identified that has as large an impact on periodontal disease as environmental influences, such as smoking or diabetes.

“Most chronic diseases appear to be a result of multiple genes interacting with the environment (like poor hygiene),” said Dr. Steven Offenbacher, a council member and coauthor of the topical page. “Information about a single gene test likely has limited inference potential.”

The ADA has additional resources for dental professionals on this topic.

In November 2015, the ADA hosted a conference addressing genomic data as it relates to dentistry.  A summary of the conference is available in the March 2016 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association. Visit and search for “Conference summary: Navigating the Sea of Genomic Data.”

The Oral Health Topic pages provide clinically relevant information on scientific concerns that may come up for dentists. To explore other topics, visit Topics covered run the gamut from information about antibiotic prophylaxis, aging and dental health, diabetes, infection control, smoking and tobacco cessation to xerostomia.