The findings of a recent study with an Australian connection further strengthen the link between obesity and periodontitis, the severe form of gum infections broadly known as gum disease or periodontal disease.

A New Look at Obesity and Gum Disease

Prior research associated being overweight with an increased risk for periodontitis, but the relationship between the two is not well understood. Recent research led by University of Adelaide scientists in conjunction with researchers at the Federal University of Pelotas was the first to attempt to trace the association from birth.

Scientists followed 539 participants from birth to age 31. Participants received periodic periodontal exams, as well as assessments of their general health and body mass index (BMI). The BMI is a measure of body fat based on a person’s height and weight; a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

The overall risk for developing periodontitis was 11 percent greater in overweight participants, and 22 percent higher in obese individuals. The risk for moderate to severe periodontitis was 12 percent higher in overweight participants, and 57 percent greater in obese participants. According to a Dental Tribune article about the research, participants who also engaged in unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, regular alcohol consumption, and poor diet faced an even greater risk for periodontal disease.

Obesity is linked to gum disease

Researchers said that their study is unique for two reasons. First, its longitudinal design and second its statistical method. The long-term follow-up design of the study gives its conclusions extra validity. The statistical method they use also allows them to simulate different scenarios and take maximum advantage of the long follow-up period.

Weight and Periodontal Disease

Despite its groundbreaking nature, the research leaves lingering questions, but the connection between periodontal disease and being overweight is complex. Excess weight causes physiological changes, including elevated blood pressure and the buildup of fatty tissue that secretes compounds involved in tissue inflammation.

A 2009 study led by Harvard University researchers established a relationship between one of these compounds—adipokines—and the gum inflammation associated with periodontitis. Since gum disease is as much about the body’s response as it is about bacteria, anything that alters the body’s response is potentially significant.

That research was backed up by a 2010 study that examined the role of cytokines, the tiny proteins that include adipokines, in periodontal inflammation. The biological mechanisms that seem to trigger gum disease in those who are overweight or obese, however, are still not entirely understood.

Preventing and Treating Gum Disease

We do know that periodontal disease is both preventable and treatable, and that gum disease can lead to severe oral health and general health problems if not treated.

Periodontal disease contributes to oral health problems including tooth loss, tooth movement, gum recession, and bone loss in the jaw. The bacteria that infect the gums can eventually enter the bloodstream and increase the risk for systemic health problems including heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory ailments.

The best defense against periodontitis is a good dental hygiene routine that includes regular dental visits. If periodontal disease has already set in, gum treatment to remove the infected tissue may be necessary.

The Sydney dentists at My Hills Dentist understand the importance of your oral health to your overall well-being. If you’re due for a checkup, or if you’re seeking to restore a bright, healthy smile, please call us today at (02) 9686 7375 to schedule your appointment at our Baulkham Hills office.