MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tooth decay and the sense of taste may be related, according to new research by Richard J. Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D., of the West Virginia University School of Dentistry. Dr. Crout and WVU colleague Daniel McNeil, Ph.D., found a genetic link between taste pathway genes and the risk of decay.

“Identification of this relationship between genetics and tooth decay could help us reduce the poor oral health of so many people in this state.  The identification of these key genes may explain why some people are more prone to tooth decay,” Crout said. “In addition, it will help us in our efforts to encourage the public to seek treatment. We can also use this information in our efforts to educate the public about proper dental hygiene.”

In this study, families were recruited by the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia (COHRA) for collection of biological samples, demographic data and clinical assessment of oral health including tooth decay (also known as caries) scores.

Caries occurrence and progression are known to be influenced by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, with numerous contributing factors, such as bacteria, diet, fluoride exposure, oral hygiene, salivary flow, salivary composition, and tooth structure. Previous reports have characterized the influence of the genetic variation on taste preferences and dietary habits.

“Prior research from our group has revealed that tooth decay in baby teeth could easily be passed from parent to child, with genes accounting for 39 percent to 66 percent of variation. In permanent teeth, it may be as high as 50 percent,” Crout said.

Lead researcher is Steven Wendell, and other researchers are Melissa Brown, Margaret Cooper, Rebecca DeSensi, Mary Marazita, Xiaojing Wang and Robert Weyant, all of the University of Pittsburgh.

The complete research study is the featured article in the current Journal of Dental Research (JDR.) 

For more information about the WVU School of Dentistry, see

For more information: Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
kf: 09-22-10