The number of Americans that are overweight (having a weight 10%—20% above normal for your height) or obese (having a weight 50%—100% above normal for your height) has increased significantly throughout the past 20 years. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 67 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Greater than 34 percent are obese. Childhood obesity has tripled since 1980. As of 2008, the prevalence of obesity among children (6—11 years) was 19.6 percent and adolescents (12—19 years) was 18.1 percent.

It is well known that obesity is associated with many medical problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, elevated cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, gastric reflux, infertility, gout and some types of cancer. In recent years, there has been research supporting a link between obesity and periodontal disease.

How Does Obesity Affect Periodontal Disease?

Overweight and obese adults have long been considered to be at high risk for many chronic inflammatory disease and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. Likewise, obesity appears to be an independent risk factor for the development of periodontal disease even after controlling other risk factors such as smoking, age and other medical problems. A recent study (Khader YS, et al.J Clin Periodontol 2009;36(1):18-24) showed that overweight individuals had double the incidence of periodontitis while obese individuals had triple the incidence.

Fat cells were once thought of as having limited function energy storage. It is now known that fat cells produce many chemical signals and hormones. Many of these substances are thought to increase overall inflammation in the body. This may lead to decreased immune status, which increases susceptibly to periodontal disease. The inflammation may also decrease blood flow to the gums and cause disease progression.

Prevention of Periodontal Disease

Diet is very important for overall health, including dental health. Eating a low-fat, reduced sodium balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables and fruits is recommended. Limiting the time sugar is in contact with the teeth is advised. Avoiding sugary beverages (sodas, fruit juices, sweetened tea) and candies (especially ones that stick to the teeth like taffy) is helpful. Eating sugary foods in between meals and before bed is also discouraged. Regular dental visits are recommended for teeth cleaning and inspection.

Understanding the relationship between obesity and the risk factors that lead to periodontal disease is very important. With the increasing rate of child and adolescent obesity, the prevalence of periodontal disease will follow. Keys to prevention of periodontal disease are through proper oral hygiene, a balanced diet and routine dental visits.

Author: Shannon McShea—Johansson, PA-C