Obesity: Effects on Oral Health

Obesity is considered a primary health concern and ongoing epidemic in the United States. In fact, nearly one-third of the adult U.S. population is now classified as either overweight or obese. A frequently overlooked or ignored consequence of longterm weight issues is its potential effects on oral health. Here are some of the effects of obesity on one’s oral health.

  1. Oral Bacteria–The composition of a person’s saliva could be linked to obesity. Moreover, studies have suggested that the make-up of the oral bacteria in someone’s mouth may, in fact, be a biological indicator of weight issues (present or future). Furthermore, some medical experts believe that oral bacteria may participate in the body processes that result in the development of weight issues.
  2. Diet–Simply stated, obesity occurs when you consume more calories than a person’s body uses during their daily activities. While certain medical disorders and conditions can contribute to obesity, fewer than one percent of obesity cases are caused by physical issues. Therefore, preventing and controlling weight issues needs to begin with modifying and examining a person’s diet. Studies also suggest that there could be a connection between the development of gum disease and a high glycemic diet. Fermentable carbohydrates, which are those found in processed and refined foods, such as potatoes, rice, flour, and pasta products, convert into simple sugars when ingested as well as broken down in the mouth. Since the digestion of carbohydrates begins within the mouth, some experts contend that eating a diet rich in these foods will likely contribute to weight gain.
  3. Formation of Plaque–If an individual consumes a high glycemic diet, those simple sugars that are produced as a result of digestion are subsequently converted into plaque, unless removed immediately. As plaque begins to form and accumulate on the teeth and gums, the risk for developing halitosis (bad breath), gum disease (such as gingivitis or periodontitis), as well as tooth loss and/or decay could increase significantly.
  4. Additional Health Issues–In addition to a higher risk of gum disease and other related dental issues, obesity can also result in increased risk for a myriad of additional health concerns that could affect an individual’s well-being and lifespan. Some of these additional medical concerns include heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, stroke, and sleep apnea. All of these conditions have chronic health implications and could be life-threatening.
  5. Loss of Nutrients–Poor diets, especially those connected to/resulting from longterm weight issues, may also result in a lack of essential nutrients. This deficiency could also result in a body’s inability to properly absorb nutrients, which is a form of malnutrition. Such a condition can make the human body vulnerable on many levels. Namely, it affects the immune system and body’s ability to fight off infection. In fact, studies conducted among overweight Americans (aged 18–34) have shown gum disease was 76 percent more likely than for normal weight individuals in the same age range.

While obesity is considered a main health concern and continuing epidemic in the United States, a frequently unexamined consequence of obesity is its potential effects on one’s oral health. Turns out, the make-up of a person’s oral bacteria and composition of their saliva may be a biological indicator of future weight issues. Moreover, it is possible that oral bacteria may participate in the body processes that result in the development of weight issues. Thus, issues such as bad breath, gum disease, and tooth loss or decay take on a whole new meaning.

By Leigh Haugh

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