Weight and Gum Disease: How Are They Linked?

The immune system is just one of the ways the two can be connected.

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There are many reasons to maintain a healthy weight for your body type, including the fact that weight is often related to other health issues. One of those health issues is gum disease, also known as periodontal disease.

Gum disease includes gum infections, from inflamed gums to tissue and bone damage. These serious infections can lead to bone loss and other sicknesses if not treated.

Here's what you should know about how weight and gum disease are connected.

How Are Weight and Gum Disease Related?

Weight and gum disease are linked in a few ways.

Weight Can Impact Dental Health

Gum disease can lead to tooth loss. The gums can separate from the tooth, leading to loose teeth or teeth that come out of the mouth.

Having a weight that is too low is not healthy for teeth. A person with a very low weight can be at risk for osteoporosis, a condition where a person's bones may start to break easily. Research suggests that the bone condition may play a role in a person getting gum disease, decrease jaw bone density, and result in tooth loss.

The authors of a Scientific Reports study looked at tooth loss and weight. The study said people considered underweight might be at a higher risk for fractures and bone loss. And the researchers found some people who were underweight had lower numbers of teeth, which could be due to not consuming enough essential vitamins or amino acids and not having a balanced diet.

Tooth loss can also be greater as weight increases. One study showed that people with higher weights had fewer teeth. The authors said that smoking and a decrease in good oral hygiene practices were related to tooth loss in the participants with obesity.

Weight Can Change Immune System Function

Your immune system is another link between gum disease and weight. Infections cause a person's immune system to spring into action, which is known as an immune response. And inflammation is one of those responses.

Healthcare providers understand that obesity adds to inflammation in the body, which has long been associated with gum disease, said Yiping Han, PhD, professor of microbial sciences in dental medicine at Columbia University. One study concluded that increased body fat due to obesity could signal the body to have an inflammatory response.

Additionally, obesity-related inflammation has been shown to cause issues for the body's immune system, said Salvador Nares, DDS, director of periodontics research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry.

"Periodontal disease is an infectious, immune-mediated disease," added Dr. Nares. "That means that obese people are going to be more susceptible to the bacteria that cause gum disease and the bacteria that cause cavities than other folks."

Inflammation and other conditions that are related to obesity are related too. "We know inflammation is an underlying cause of many diseases—periodontal disease but also cardiovascular disease and many cancers," explained Han. "Obesity is a risk factor for many of these ailments, so there's a natural connection."

But weight loss may lead to a decrease in inflammation. According to one review, many articles said that weight loss (through diet or surgery) among participants with overweight and obesity reduced pro-inflammatory markers (e.g., C-reactive protein, or CRP) in the body.

Considerations About Having a Healthy Weight

Healthy weights will vary from person to person, so you'll want to know what weight is considered healthy for you.

A person's body mass index (BMI) can give them information about their weight beyond weighing themselves every now and then. But BMI is not the only tool for measuring weight and body fat.

About BMI

BMI is a metric that uses a calculation based on weight and height to make assumptions about body fat and, by extension, your health. This tool does not consider your body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. Despite its flaws, the medical community still uses BMI because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to analyze health data.

Another tool to use is waist circumference, which measures how much fat is around a person's midsection. Having a larger amount of fat in that area is related to an increased risk of health conditions like obesity, heart disease, or diabetes.

Waist-to-hip and waist-to-height ratios are other screening tools that may be used to help reach conclusions about weight. Like waist circumference, both of these measurements look at where fat is located on a person's body that could be associated with health risks.

Healthcare providers can also help you assess your overall quality of health when it comes to your weight. They may use some of the tools above, along with a physical exam and blood tests to determine if there are other medical reasons for weight changes.

Other assessments a healthcare provider might perform include:

  • Skinfold thickness measurements
  • Diet evaluations
  • Physical activity evaluations
  • Family history evaluations

When used together, the findings from the tools and assessments can point you in the right direction for getting to a healthy weight.

How Nutrition Impacts Oral Health

It's possible for a person not to have enough of the nutrients they need—regardless of their weight. A person considered underweight may be missing iron, folate, or vitamin B12, for example. And research has found that individuals with obesity may have deficiencies in vitamin D3, B vitamins, and thiamine.

More About Nutrient Deficiencies

Not having vitamins or other nutrients in your diet is known as a deficiency, like a calcium or vitamin B12 deficiency. Deficiencies can lead to malnutrition, which may happen because of:

  • A lack of food available to you
  • Eating disorders
  • Eating foods that don’t have a lot of nutrients
  • Issues with digestion or absorbing nutrients
  • Medical conditions that keep you from eating

What you eat and drink can play a role in your oral health. One research article said that diets low in fiber and micronutrients have been associated with more oral diseases in general. Also, gum bleeding and destructive gum disease may be signs that a person has not been eating enough micronutrients, like vitamin C.

Your oral health may lead to a decrease in the amounts and types of nutrients you consume too. Issues with chewing food due to dentures or implants can make it harder to eat different foods (e.g., carrots) that may have the nutrients you need (e.g., vitamin A). Research also found that people who have experienced tooth loss may not consume a lot of fruits and vegetables, protein, or vitamins C and E.

So along with weight management, nutrition is another area to keep in mind when aiming for improved oral health.

How Can You Maintain a Healthy Weight and Decrease the Risk of Gum Disease?

Here are a few practices that may help you with weight management and lower gum disease risk.

Practice Good Oral Hygiene

To ensure that your oral health is in good shape, there are many things you should do. Some actions to take are:

  • Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste (twice daily)
  • Using floss or another interdental cleaner (e.g., a Waterpik) to clean between your teeth (once daily)
  • Replacing your toothbrush (every three to four months)
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Keeping snacks to a minimum

It's also a good idea to schedule regular dental appointments to monitor your dental health. Doing so along with good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent the majority of dental diseases.

Engage in Healthy Eating

When it comes to the way you eat, you want to focus on a healthy eating plan. That plan, in general, should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • Various protein foods
  • Foods low in added sugar, sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol

You'll also want to ensure that you're getting the recommended amounts of the nutrients you need from your diet. Of note, a few nutrients might be more helpful than others when it comes to stopping gum disease before it starts. Some studies have shown that certain nutrients can prevent periodontal diseases, including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

But if you need help with where to start with eating healthy and nutrition, consider talking with a healthcare provider or dietitian. Your eating plan should also stay within the calorie range your body needs, which may vary based on your dietary needs or restrictions.

Get Some Exercise

In terms of physical activity and weight maintenance, it's best to aim for:

  • 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise weekly
  • 75 minutes of highly intense exercise weekly
  • A combination of the above types of exercise weekly

If your goal is to lose weight, you may need to increase your exercise time unless you change how much you eat. Additionally, exercise needs will be different for every individual.

You'll also want to speak with a healthcare provider to determine what amount of exercise will be most appropriate for your case if you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

But the biggest thing to keep in mind? "The take-home message here is that the body is connected," said Dr. Nares, "and the mouth, in many ways, is a window to a person's systemic health."

A Quick Review

There is a connection between weight and gum disease. Your dental health can be affected when your weight is too high or too low. People with overweight or obesity could also experience inflammation because of how gum disease and weight affect the immune system.

Knowing what your healthy weight should be and how to measure it (i.e., not just using BMI) are important for reducing gum disease. And practicing good oral hygiene and eating healthy are some examples of ways that may help with weight and gum disease risk.

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