Periodontal disease and obesity may seem unrelated, but they share one important feature. They are both extremely common in the United States. The two diseases may also have a deeper connection than anyone realized in the past. The British Dental Journal recently published a review of many studies that explores the connection between the two diseases. While their findings are not conclusive, there is significant evidence that there is a link between obesity and the development of periodontal disease.
Understanding Prior Research
Many studies have shown that obesity and periodontal disease often coincide with each other. That did not come as a surprise to dental professionals. After all, poor oral health has also been linked to many other diseases, from heart attacks and strokes to Alzheimer’s disease. That having been said, the studies did not clearly show that one of the problems caused the other, or that they had a single shared cause. The link was clear, but the cause of that link was unknown.
Most of the existing research on periodontal disease and obesity focuses on relatively small populations. Relatively few of those studies watched the patients over time. Instead, they tended to examine those populations for a short period of time. On their own, those studies failed to provide a broad view of the relationship between the two problems. On the other hand, there were plenty of studies that covered a wide variety of populations. That made it an ideal topic for a systematic review of the literature.
Inflammation Is the Common Factor
The research team found that people with specific physical traits are more likely to develop periodontal disease. A high body mass index, large waist circumference, high serum lipid levels, and large amounts of subcutaneous body fat all appear to be relevant. In other words, they found evidence of a strong connection between obesity and periodontal disease. Those traits are linked to metabolic changes in the human body that make it more prone to develop inflammation. That change can encourage both problems to develop.
The study does include some good news. While the study does link obesity to periodontal disease, it does not get in the way of treating periodontal problems. It is always best to prevent periodontal disease and avoid becoming obese in the first place, but there are options for dealing with the problems when they do occur.
This study is relevant to dental professionals and other medical professionals, but it is unlikely to lead to big changes in their practices at this time. It does not provide any evidence that they need to adjust their treatment plans for the patients who suffer from either of the diseases.
It may be much more important for those who are counseling their patients about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with healthy food choices. Relatively few people realize that oral health is connected to their general health. Oral health professionals may be able to help those patients by encouraging them to maintain a healthy weight. It may not be relevant for absolutely every patient, but it is something for medical professionals to keep in mind.
The practical impact of this information may change in the future. The study was far from conclusive, largely due to the limited data that was available. If future researchers choose to delve into the topic in more detail, they may be able to develop new treatment options. At the moment, the study serves as a stark reminder that a single medical problem, such as obesity, can make people much more likely to develop other problems in the future.