Most people understand the importance of knowing which relatives have had cancer, heart disease and diabetes, since a family history of those diseases increases your own risk. But when you ask your elders about their medical history, don’t forget to question them on their dental and vision health. Certain dental and vision problems can be passed down from generation to generation, causing not just tooth or eyesight issues, but also increasing your risk for more serious diseases. Here are some questions to make sure you ask the next time you’re talking about your family’s health history:
- Is there a history of tooth decay or soft tooth enamel? The softer the enamel is, the more easily a tooth will decay when bacteria presents itself. This makes you likelier to develop cavities that, if gone undiagnosed, can lead to severe toothache, infection and tooth loss. Make sure to check with your parents if they suffer from soft enamel since one’s tooth decay risk is often genetic.
- Is there a history of gum disease? Studies have found that heart disease and heart attacks are more common in people who have gum disease. And some people may be genetically inclined to develop gum disease. It’s important to know if you’re at an elevated risk so that you visit the dentist regularly, avoid smoking and stick to a twice-daily brushing and flossing routine.
- Is there a history of retinoblastoma? Retinoblastoma is a tumor of the eye most commonly detected in children. If caught early, it has a very high survival rate. That’s why parents with a family history of retinoblastoma should seek genetic counseling, and all children with a family history should be screened soon after birth.
- Is there a history of macular degeneration? You are more likely to be affected by age-related macular degeneration if someone in your immediate family has been affected in the past. It’s important to have this information, as macular degeneration can severely impair your vision. While there is no cure, it can be treated by vitamins, medications, vision aids and laser therapy.
- Is there a history of glaucoma? A family history of glaucoma can increase your risk of the disorder. Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders which leads to damage of the optic nerve and is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. Early detection can help to reduce your chances of progressive vision loss.
For more help keeping your eyes and teeth healthy, check out these posts from this blog as well as A Healthier Michigan:
- 5 Important Questions to Ask Your Dentist
- Fixes for the Most Common Vision Problems
- Healthy Aging Month: Protecting Your Eyes at Work
John J. Dunn is vice president of Middle and Small Group Business for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Photo credit: David Amsler This post was originally published on June 11, 2015.