By: Denise Foley
Gum disease is much more dangerous than most people think. For one, it can lead to tooth loss, thanks to bacteria eroding the bone anchoring your teeth. But what’s even worse, that same bacteria can sneak into your bloodstream, doubling your risk of heart disease and diabetes -- and if you’re pregnant, it can even lead to a premature or low-birth-weight baby.
So it’s no wonder dentists like to drive the point home about brushing and flossing regularly at every visit. Now, they may have a new bit of advice for certain patients: weight loss.
Here’s the surprising news: A new study from Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine found that whittling away fat can actually help improve gum health. A group of obese people with gum disease who’d lost weight (the new-fashioned way, through gastric bypass surgery, which removed some of their abdominal fat cells) had less bleeding, lower levels of plaque and less ligament loss in the tissues supporting the teeth after gum treatment than a similar group who didn’t lose weight. They also had lower blood sugar levels, a bonus if you have or are on the road to diabetes, which boosts your risk for gum disease.
What’s the connection? One theory: It’s all about inflammation. Excessive fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals -- the same ones that contribute to bone erosion and tooth loss -- which impair your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. They also damage gums, and then dangerous bacteria can seep into your bloodstream, where they trigger even more inflammation throughout your body.
To steer clear of the dangers of gum disease, brush your teeth twice a day and floss. And the next time you’re in the bathroom brushing your teeth, step on the scale -- if you’re well over your ideal weight, add diet and exercise to your oral care regimen.
Denise Foley is Completely You’s “News You Can Use” blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women’s health and parenting.
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