As obesity rates in North America and the rest of the world continue to rise over the past 20 years, more focus has been put on obesity-related medical issues like diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, hypertension, cholesterol, acid reflux, and countless others. However, you rarely hear gum disease mentioned in this list of ailments that put obese people at risk of severe health complications.
Within the past decade, research has begun to explore the link between obesity and gum disease, and the findings have shown a significant correlation. Understanding both diseases, obesity and periodontal disease, it is essential to linking the two clearly. Also, to help promote means of prevention for those who are obese to avoid additional health issues.
People with a BMI of 30% or higher are classified as obese by the CDC. Body mass index is the measurement of overall body fat percentage by calculating a ratio of height and weight. Over the past two decades, America has seen a sharp rise in obesity, and it’s believed to be a chronic condition. It’s no longer simply “overeating,” as it’s branched into a more systemic and socioeconomic issue that also involves aspects of mental health. Theories on why obesity has been on such upswing blame everything from fast food culture to food marketing, as well as food industry lobbyists and poverty among the working class. It’s a complex issue that isn’t easily explained, but government efforts to curb obesity rates seem to be futile thus far.
The statistics surrounding the issue are alarming because 17% of children are obese, meaning almost 13 million children are being exposed to severe and sometimes fatal health risks like type II diabetes, various cancers, and cardiovascular disease from a very young age. The future generations will have to fight harder for their health at this rate, making prevention education even more critical for parents and for children.
Gum disease is a more general term for periodontal disease, which is a chronic bacterial infection affecting the tissues and bone surrounding teeth. There are two stages of this illness, starting with gingivitis. Once the first stage goes untreated for a more extended period of time, untreated gingivitis advances into periodontal disease. There are many risk factors that can lead to developing this form of gum disease including, but not limited to, tobacco use, poor oral hygiene, high sugar intake, lack of dental care, diabetes, aging, medications, broken or dead teeth, poorly fitted dental appliances, and even pregnancy. Early warning signs include swollen or red gums that bleed easily, bad breath, receding gums, as well as shifting or loose teeth.
Plaque is a sticky film-like substance made up of bacteria, and it builds upon the teeth daily. The most vulnerable areas of the teeth are right along the gum line where plaque is often found most. Plaque can spread over time and begin to grow even below the gum line, sometimes hardening and turning into tartar. The bacteria that forms plaque causes significant inflammation if not removed daily by brushing and flossing, and will progress into the gums, creating pockets of infection. These pockets can destroy bone, tissue, and cause tooth loss if not treated. Periodontal disease is also linked to other diseases like stroke, heart disease, and even premature birth.
There isn’t a singular confirmed link between obesity and periodontal disease, but there are various theories that have indicate correlation by looking at what the two conditions have in common. It’s not a case of cause-and-effect that is easy to pinpoint and study as there are more than likely several factors involved. However, the most common underlying cause seems to be inflammation.
One theory believes insulin resistance is a catalyst for inflammation, which is most often an issue closely in line with obesity, but not exclusively, which is why diabetes I carries a risk as well. Another supporting theory explains that increased body weight, waist circumference, and body fat percentage all affect body chemistry and metabolism. When those are not within a healthy range, it causes inflammation in the body. There is still more research being conducted to refine this information, but experts on both diseases have offered a clinical perspective on how people can handle the link between these two diseases as we know it now.
Since the link between both diseases is becoming more apparent, but cannot yet be scientifically defined entirely, medical professionals are working to help people avoid dealing with the maladies the best they can. Due to the nature of this underlying link, it seems that periodontal disease is found in patients most susceptible to inflammation, which are also most at risk of obesity. In turn, treating one issue can confidently help treat the other. Doing so, especially in running clinical trials, can hopefully help researchers learn more about the link and break from the chicken or the egg theories that currently exist.
Patients who are obese would likely benefit from discussing gum disease with their dentists to come up with a prevention plan, even before symptoms arise. Knowing the risk is half the battle, and with frequent cleanings and checkups every six months, dentists are able to monitor plaque buildup and the overall health of the patient’s gums. Daily oral health is equally as crucial for patients. Preventing plaque buildup by keeping up with regular brushing, flossing, and general oral hygiene is the key to keeping harmful bacteria at bay and far away from the gums.
Fighting obesity will continue to be a more difficult struggle, however, as every human needs to consume food to live. However, people who are at risk of obesity are urged to take measures to improve their health by reducing their weight with diet improvement, decreased caloric intake, and frequent moderate to light exercise. Fighting the battle of these two diseases from both sides is the best way to avoid both.