The Unexpected Link Between Obesity And Gum Disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a common cause of bad breath, loose teeth, and painful chewing. If left untreated, it can lead to gum recession or even tooth loss, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In this case, we're talking about periodontitis, a more severe form of the disease that affects nearly half of U.S. adults over 30. Gingivitis, a milder form of periodontal disease, may cause swelling or bleeding gums, but it can be reversed through proper oral care, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Both forms of gum disease are due to inflammation, says the CDC. Over time, oral bacteria may infect the gums and cause plaque buildup. Untreated plaque can harden in as little as 48 hours, forming a tough substance called tartar, explains Humana. In the long run, dental plaque and tartar may cause gum inflammation, or gingivitis, a disease that can progress to periodontitis.

Stress, cigarette smoking, ill-fitting bridges, and damaged fillings only make things worse. The same goes for certain conditions and medications. For example, people with uncontrolled diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease than healthy individuals, according to Cedars-Sinai. Obesity seems to play a role, too, but there are ways to reduce its impact on your teeth and gums. 

Obesity, a risk factor for gum disease

Obesity is commonly associated with heart disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, and liver problems, reports a 2020 review published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism. As the scientists note, excessive adipose tissue promotes inflammation, affecting the heart, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs. A recent study presented in the Journal of Dental Research suggests that obesity-induced inflammation may also contribute to periodontal disease. 

Researchers found that mice fed a high-fat diet experienced more inflammation due to weight gain compared to those on a low-fat diet. The number of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in their bodies increased, too. These cells regulate immune function and can expand in response to cancer, infection, or inflammation, explains a research paper featured in Nature Reviews Immunology. Some of them can become osteoclasts, a type of cell that may affect bone density and volume. Therefore, they have the potential to worsen gum disease and destroy the bones that support our teeth, notes the Journal of Dental Research.

Several other studies confirm the link between obesity and gum disease, according to clinical research published in Medicina Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal. This association may be due to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and other complications of obesity. What's more, excess body weight can lead to diabetes, a risk factor for periodontal disease. On the positive side, it's possible to avoid or reverse these complications by losing the extra pounds and taking better care of your teeth and gums.