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Keywords:

  • gene–environment interaction;
  • intergenerational;
  • life course;
  • oral health

Shearer DM, Thomson WM. Intergenerational continuity in oral health: a review. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2010; 38: 479–486. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S

Abstract –  Life course research considers not only the influences on health which act during the lifespan but it is also concerned with factors that act across generations. Rarely are genetics or environment solely responsible for producing individual variation; virtually all characteristics are the result of gene–environment interaction. An increasing interest in life course research and gene–environment interactions is reflected in greater awareness of the role of family history and intergenerational continuity in oral health as a practical, inexpensive approach to categorizing genetic risk for many common, preventable disorders of adulthood (including oral disease). Does the health status of one generation have an effect on that of the next? While researchers in recent years have begun to investigate the inter-generational associations between exposures and disease, little research has been carried out (to date) on the long-term biological, behavioural, psychological, social and environmental mechanisms that link oral health and oral disease risk to exposures acting across generations. This narrative review identifies studies which have contributed to highlighting some of the intergenerational factors influencing oral health. However, there is a need for a wider perspective on intergenerational continuity in oral health, along with a careful evaluation of the factors which contribute to the effect. A comprehensive investigation into the nature and extent of intergenerational transmission of oral health is required.