Obesity and Your Teeth

Connecting Our Health to Our Mouth

Woman's teeth
Timothy Kirman / EyeEm / Getty Images

Obesity is considered to be an ongoing epidemic in the United States, with an estimated 31% of the adult population classified as obese. A study published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Dental Research suggests that oral bacteria may contribute to the development of obesity.

The study involved 313 overweight women, with a body mass index (BMI) between 27 and 32. After comparing the saliva of the overweight women to the saliva of 232 healthy individuals from periodontal disease studies, researchers discovered the likelihood that a single bacterial species (Selenomonas noxia) found in 98.4% of the overweight subjects may serve as a biological indicator of a developing overweight condition.

Alternatively, the researchers believe in the possibility that oral bacteria may participate in the body processes that leads to obesity.

What Causes Oral Bacteria?

Preventing and controlling obesity generally begins with examining and modifying our diet. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Dentistry suggest there may be a connection between a high glycemic diet and dental disease.

Fermentable carbohydrates, such as refined wheat flour, potatoes, rice, and pasta, convert into simple sugars in the mouth. These foods are believed by many experts to contribute to weight gain, leading up to obesity.

The connection these same sugars have on our dental health is rather interesting because it goes against traditional dietary recommendations. When ingested, simple sugars are converted into plaque if not removed immediately. As plaque begins to accumulate on our teeth and gums, the risk for varying forms of gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis, as well as tooth decay, may become inevitable.

Although some viewpoints suggest that fermentable carbohydrates are essential to our diet, and preventing dental disease from the conversion of these sugars into plaque is preventable by following a regimented dental hygiene schedule, the possibility remains that following a low glycemic diet may be beneficial to our oral health and waistline; a concept that greatly increases our overall health and wellness.

There is now emerging evidence to suggest that simple carbohydrates like sugar and flour contribute significantly to inflammation in the liver that promotes the production of central or 'belly fat'. Belly fat is particularly dangerous because it builds up around organs and contributes to the risk factor of a number diseases like obesity, type-2 diabetes and gout. When a person has inflammation of the gums that is seen in gum disease, it may be a sign that the body is experiencing significant systemic inflammation that can contribute to their weight gain and risk of obesity. Cutting down simple carbohydrates may have a positive effect on both gum disease and obesity. 

As we continue to learn about the connection between our health and our mouth, the reaffirmation that regular dental examinations, meticulous dental hygiene by brushing and flossing twice daily, and conscious dietary modifications may prevent health complications related to gum disease and essentially oral bacteria. Who knows, a trip to see your dentist just might be what the doctor ordered.

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"Diets bad for teeth are also bad for the body." University of Washington School of Dentistry. July 9, 2009.  http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=50669

Is Obesity an Oral Bacterial Disease? International Association for Dental Research. July 8, 2009. http://www.iadr.org/files/public/09June_JDRMediaRelease.pdf

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