Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk

SATURDAY April 4, 2009 -- Obese adults are at higher risk of gum disease than are normal-weight people, a new study finds.

For many years, researchers have been trying to determine the link between gum disease and cardiovascular risk, said study author Monik Jimenez, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

To explore the possible connection between excess weight and periodontal problems, Jimenez and her colleagues analyzed data from nearly 37,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They were free of periodontal disease at the beginning of the study and were followed for up to 16 years, from 1986 to 2002.

Researchers gathered information on the men's height, weight and self-reported gum disease diagnoses, as well as their waist and hip measurements.

"Obesity was associated with a 29 percent increased risk of periodontal disease over the course of the study" compared to those of normal weight, Jimenez said. She used the standard definition of obesity as a body-mass index of 30 or higher.

"There was a negligibly small risk" of gum disease among those who were overweight but not obese, she said.

Waist circumference was linked to a higher risk of gum disease, too. Men with a waist of 40 inches or more -- considered a risk for heart disease -- had a 19 percent higher risk of getting gum disease than those with a waist under 40 inches.

In a second study, Jimenez and her colleagues at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan found that an elevated waist-hip ratio (WHR) was linked to a greater risk of moderate gum disease in men and women age 70 and above.

Those with an elevated waist-to-hip ratio were nearly six more likely to have gum disease as those who did not have an elevated waist-to-hip ratio. In women, the waist-to-hip ratio is considered elevated if it is .88 or above; in men, if it is .95 or higher. For instance, a woman with a 36-inch waist and 40-inch hips has a WHR of .90.

Jimenez is scheduled to present the findings Saturday at the International Association for Dental Research general session in Miami Beach, Fla.

The findings build on previous research, said David Cochran, president of the American Academy of Periodontology and chairman of the Department of Periodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.

"It's been known that diabetics' gum disease is worse," he said. There have been other associations uncovered, such as heart disease and gum disease and gum disease and cancer risk in men. In a previous study, researchers found a link between obesity and gum disease in younger people.

>Gum diseases include a mild form called gingivitis, in which gums bleed easily. But that can progress to periodontitis, in which bacteria in the plaque irritate the gums and provoke an inflammatory response, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.

The common denominator may be inflammation, Cochran said. "Periodontal inflammation and inflammation throughout the body are very much associated with one another," he said.

While the new studies don't prove cause-and-effect, Cochran said it's reason enough to recommend a heart-healthy diet that's also good for your gums.

More information

To assess your risk of gum disease, visit the American Academy of Periodontology.

Posted: April 2009


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