It is likely a connection few have considered, but new research in mice suggests that obesity may up your risk of gum disease.
Specifically, chronic inflammation caused by obesity may trigger the development of cells called osteoclasts that break down bone tissue — including alveolar bone that holds teeth in place.
“Although there is a clear relationship between the degree of obesity and periodontal (gum) disease, the mechanisms that underpin the links between these conditions were not completely understood,” said researcher Dr. Keith Kirkwood, a professor of oral biology at the University of Buffalo's School of Dental Medicine.
For the new study, he and his colleagues fed two groups of mice vastly different diets for 16 weeks. One group received a low-fat diet with 10% of energy from fat, while the other group was given a high-fat diet with 45% of energy from fat.
Compared to the low-fat group, mice on the high-fat diet had more obesity, inflammation and a greater increase of immune cells known as myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). These develop into a range of different cell types in the bone marrow and spleen, including osteoclasts.
Mice in the high-fat group had higher levels of osteoclasts, lost more bone that holds teeth in place and had much higher expression of 27 genes linked with osteoclast formation.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Dental Research.
They suggest that expansion of MDSCs during obesity contributes to increased bone destruction with periodontitis, said Kyuhwan Kwack, a postdoctoral associate on the study team.
"This data supports the view that obesity raises the risk of periodontal bone loss," Kwack said.
Bone loss is a major symptom of gum disease and may ultimately lead to tooth loss. Gum disease affects more than 47% of adults 30 and older, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Kirkwood said the findings may also provide new insight into the mechanisms of other chronic inflammatory, bone-related diseases that can accompany obesity, such as arthritis and osteoporosis.