John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press

Obese Teens At Risk For Gum Disease and Cavities

Obesity increases a child's risk for a variety of medical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. New research indicates that obese teens may also be at risk for dental disorders such as periodontitis, a condition that involves inflammation and pain in the tissues surrounding the teeth, according to researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle.

In this study, 2,452 13- to 21-year-olds underwent dental exams to check for periodontitis and answered questions about their smoking habits (smoking increases the risk for gum disease, so only nonsmokers were included). Researchers also measured the young adults' body fat levels, height, and waist circumference.

In 13- to 16-year-olds, weight wasn't related to the risk of periodontitis, and overweight or obese teens had no greater risk. But among 17- to 21-year-olds, the more a teen weighed, the greater the risk of dental problems. That group showed a 6% increased risk of periodontitis for each 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) increase in weight and a 5% increased risk for each 0.4-inch (1-centimeter) increase in waist size.

Overweight teens may be at increased risk of dental disorders because their diets contain excess sugar and fat and may lack certain key nutrients important for dental health, the authors of this study suggest. Poor dietary patterns may also make it difficult for teens' bodies to fight off infection and could even decrease blood flow, leading to increased inflammation in the gums.

What This Means to You. The results of this study indicate that teens with weight problems may also experience an increased risk of dental disorders, such as periodontitis. To help, schedule regular preventive dental visits and encourage your teen to brush and floss daily. You can also help prevent cavities by limiting your family's consumption of soft drinks and offering water and low-fat or skim milk to quench thirst instead. Finally, if you have concerns about your child's weight, talk to your doctor.

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