When it comes to health, what matters more, genetics or lifestyle? The medical community has been trying to answer that question for decades, and the consensus seems to be that yes, family history does play a role, but it often can be overcome by healthy living.

I know a woman whose mother and sisters all died in their 60s with cardio issues, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. She didn’t want that to happen to her so she changed her lifestyle when she was in her 20s. Today she’s 93 years old and still plays golf. She very well could have been predisposed to have those health problems, but by living healthy – watching what she eats and exercising – she was able to avoid them.

The same thing is true when it comes to the mouth. For example, I’ll have a patient who tells me he doesn’t want to spend any money on dental care because he’s going to lose his teeth anyway. I ask him why and he says his parents, grandparents and the rest of his family all lost theirs at a young age.

On the surface, that sounds like genetics. But if you look a little deeper you’ll find that for generations, the family didn’t visit the dentist unless they were in pain. They didn’t take care of their teeth – barely brushed, never flossed. And this behavior was passed down from generation to generation. Of course everybody lost their teeth!

There are some genetic issues that can run in the family – gum disease, tooth decay, misaligned teeth. But all of them can be easily overcome with proper care and treatment.

So don’t blame grandma for your bad teeth. And remember, one of the best ways to make sure your kids have a healthy mouth is to take good care of yours and be an example. You can change your family tree!

We delve deeper into the genetics vs. lifestyle debate in this week’s episode of the “Your Filthy Mouth” podcast. We also answer a listener’s question about charcoal toothpaste and, as always, we connect the dots between oral health and overall wellness.

Until next week …

Charles “Dr. Chuck” Reinertsen, DMD, has been practicing dentistry in Central Florida since 1979 and is author of the book, “The Power of a Really Great Smile.” His passion is spreading the word about how the health of your mouth is intrinsically linked to the rest of your body. Learn more at www.yourfilthymouth.com.