Concerns over 'cake culture' as dental study links obesity with tooth loss

Poor oral health more common in the overweight, leading to other ailments and inflammation

A study in Sharjah has found those who are overweight are more likely to have poor gum health. Photo:
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Obese people are more at risk of losing their teeth, according to research in Sharjah connecting poor gum health with being overweight.

Researchers at the University Dental Hospital of Sharjah looked at the gum health of 75 people split into three categories: those of a healthy weight, those who were overweight and a group classified as obese.

Results showed an increase in the relative abundance of periodontal pathogens in those who were overweight, even if they maintained a good dental hygiene routine.

In this part of the world, we are seeing more obesity in those in their early teens, and quite often they will not have good oral hygiene
Dr Vinayak Mohan Pavate, NMC Hospital Dubai

Young people who are obese are particularly vulnerable to losing their teeth or experiencing gum problems later in life, said dentists responding to study results published by the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

“There is an intimate and significant correlation between measures of adiposity and predictors of periodontal disease, suggesting that higher body weight increases the risk for more severe periodontal disease,” the study said.

“This is alarming since these diseases can cause local complications such as tooth loss, as well as systemic complications in other body sites related to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the oral cavity, which can be translocated to distant body sites.”

Growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth increases the possibility of transmission through saliva into the intestines.

The oral microbiome – or mouth bacteria that indicates good health – can determine the health of metabolic functions elsewhere in the body, and the transfer of nutrients and energy.

The mouth can be a bellwether for overall health, with the obese also likely to report other signs of ill health, dentists said.

“Interestingly, there are definite links to weight and tooth decay, but not just with higher BMI patients – those who are underweight are more prone also,” said Dr Victoria Veytsman, a dental surgeon at the DDS Cosmetic Dental Studios.

“Levels of tooth decay are influenced by a number of weight related factors – which are often lifestyle dependent.

“Dietary habits are the most prevalent. Anyone with a high-sugar diet or reliant on carbohydrates and processed foods can expect more tooth decay instances – sugar consumption provides a growth source for harmful bacteria that produces enamel-eroding acids.”

Cake culture

Poor diets, smoking and a “cake culture” are contributing to a double whammy of obesity related illness, and poor gum health, Dr Veytsman said.

Insulin resistance is more common with heavier patients, alongside metabolic syndromes such as diabetes.

Obesity or having a higher Body Mass Index will often be associated with poor diet, insulin resistance or physical mobility problems that prevent a patient from practising good oral care.

Dr Vinayak Mohan Pavate at NMC Hospital in Al Nahda, Dubai, said the link between obesity and gum health had become more common in patients.

“Gum problems have a high correlation with obese individuals, because of more bacteria that causes these issues,” he said.

“In this part of the world, we are seeing more obesity in those in their early teens, and quite often they will not have good oral hygiene.

“Further studies are needed to understand if this is because of lack of motivation, a sedentary lifestyle or education.

“If the oral cavity is not healthy, bacteria can cause inflammation and infections – is it is not just restricted to gum problems, it is creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

“Regular dental check-ups will help in the long run, otherwise children will be losing their teeth at a young age.”

The UAE has some of the highest obesity rates in the world, with 34 per cent of those over 18 recorded as obese, eighth on a global prevalence list.

Kuwait sits top of the global obesity rankings with 39.7 per cent of its population obese, followed by the US with 38.5 per cent, Saudi Arabia with 37.6 per cent, Jordan with 37.4 per cent and Qatar with 37.1 per cent.

School campaigns

A review of 29 medical studies published between 2011 and 2021 by Zayed University found oral disease was the most common childhood disease in the UAE.

Several school campaigns have been launched to encourage better oral health in children, including the Community Dental Services's national oral diseases preventive programme Dubai Smiles Healthy and Abu Dhabi Smiles programme in 2012 for children aged 5-11.

Dr Malak Basim Alkhafaji, a dentist at Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai, said it is common for obese patients to have poor dental health and other ailments.

“We know there is an established connection between diabetes and gum disease,” she said.

“Many obese people can be pre-diabetic so they are more at risk and it also relates to gum disease as it impacts on blood circulation and more microbes in the oral cavity that causes gum disease.

“I can relate to this in may patients. If my patients are obese, they usually have other health conditions.

“We see a lot of young people who are obese these days due to an unhealthy lifestyle, fast food and lack of exercise, but we also see it in the elderly so it is not specific to age, but rather their weight.

“It is advisable to get a check up every six months and regular annual teeth scaling to avoid problems like gum disease.”

Updated: August 09, 2023, 7:09 AM