New study explores the link between obesity and gum disease

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The connection between obesity and periodontal or gum disease isn't as simple as cause-and-effect, according to a new study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and published in the British Dental Journal. Instead, the relationship centers on what both diseases have in common: inflammation.

Obesity and gum disease are among the most common non-communicable diseases in the United States--and studies show these chronic conditions may be related. The new study explores the effect of obesity on non-surgical periodontal care and evaluates potential pathways that may illustrate the connection between the two conditions.

Examining a plethora of existing studies, researchers, led by Andres Pinto, DMD, MBA, MSCE, co-author of the study and professor of oral and maxillofacial medicine and diagnostic sciences, found that data showing increased body mass index, waist circumference, and percentage of body fat to be associated with an increased risk to develop periodontitis. Most studies analyzed data from population subsets at one point in time, as opposed to studying the same population over a longer period.

They concluded that changes in body chemistry affect metabolism, which, in turn causes inflammation--something present in both maladies. This information can inform how healthcare professionals plan treatments for patients suffering from obesity or gum disease, Pinto said.

"Periodontal disease occurs in patients more susceptible to inflammation--who are also more susceptible to obesity," Pinto said in a statement. "Oral healthcare professionals need to be aware of the complexity of obesity to counsel their patients about the importance of an appropriate body weight and maintaining good oral hygiene.”

Pinto said further research on the relationship between gum disease and obesity is needed, noting there is currently limited evidence to recommend changes in treatment planning.

"There is a thought, from the clinical perspective, that if you treat one of the issues, it may impact the other," he said. "This is the big question. For example, if we treat obesity successfully, will this impact periodontal disease to the point of being of clinical relevance compared to control population. The jury is still out given the paucity of controlled, well designed, clinical trials on this issue."