The Link Between Obesity and Oral Health

Observational studies have revealed a connection between obesity and poor oral health in both children and adults.

Obesity is a serious health concern, not just in the United States but in developed countries around the world. It is not just a matter of being overweight but having too much body fat relative to your body mass. According to the American Journal of Public Health, obesity is responsible for about 20 percent of all U.S. deaths annually, which is comparable to the number of deaths caused by smoking each year.

Researchers recognized obesity as an epidemic in the U.S. in the 1980s. Awareness alone has not curbed the problem, and obesity rates have actually ramped up over the previous decade. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that around 40 percent of adults older than 20 are obese, and 32 percent are considered overweight, which means that only around 28 percent are at a healthy weight.

The problem is not limited to adults. Among children and adolescents, obesity affects about 18.5 percent of the population. Obesity is linked to a wide range of other health complications, and this growing prevalence among young people means that many health issues are becoming more common at a younger age than ever before, and this includes even advanced gum disease.

The Connection Between Obesity and Oral Health

Obesity is a specific medical term that indicates that a person has too much body fat. Body fat is evaluated contextually using the body mass index. An optimal body mass index (BMI) ranges from about 18.5 to 25. People with a BMI from 25 to 30 are considered overweight, and a BMI above 30 is considered obese. Obesity is problematic because it is linked to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea, and strokes. Recent research has found that obesity undermines oral health in two key ways:

  1. Obesity often occurs due to a lack of physical activity coupled with a diet high in calories and fat. These foods often contribute to bad breath, gum disease, tooth decay, and even tooth loss.
  2. An imbalanced diet often results in nutritional deficiencies, which makes it hard to defend against oral infections. The American Academy of Periodontology conducted a study in which it found gum disease was greater than 75 percent more prevalent among obese people age 18 to 34.

Does Obesity Contribute to Oral Bacteria?

The Journal of Dental Research published a compelling study in 2009. Researchers compared similarly aged women across various weight groups and found a significantly greater presence of selenomonas noxia among the overweight and obese groups. Selenomonas noxia is an oral bacteria that is directly linked to gum disease. The reason for the higher levels is not yet known, but it is theorized that this may be due to inflammation being more common and widespread in people with higher BMI levels.

Obese people are advised to lower their BMI in order to improve systemic health as well as their oral health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends targeting small and steady weight reductions. The ideal is to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week and about 5 to 10 percent over the first six months. Achieving this goal is often possible by making some relatively minor lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Smaller portions
  • Reduced sugar intake
  • Avoiding most empty calories
  • Opting for water over soft drinks
  • Not using food to treat or reward yourself
  • Being more physically active on a daily basis
  • Brushing and flossing twice a day
  • Visiting your dentist at least every six months

Manage Your Weight for a Healthier Smile

Being overweight is a complex and challenging health issue that many Americans face. Weight can often be managed through a balanced diet and regular exercise, which directly benefit your oral health as well. As you progress to your target weight, it is also essential that you maintain regular visits with your dentist to have your teeth cleaned, get an oral exam, and receive personalized oral care advice. Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, is a leading dentist in Arizona who can provide the compassionate dental care you need, and you can schedule your checkup today by calling Scottsdale Cosmetic Dentistry Excellence at 480 585 1853.

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