The Surprising Way You’re Making Yourself Fat

Sure, you realize that what you put into your mouth could affect how comfortably your pants fit from day to day as well as over time. But did you know that what’s naturally in your mouth could also affect your weight?

A study recently published in the Journal of Dental Research discovered a surprising link between the presence of certain oral bacteria and obesity. While comparing saliva samples between overweight women and average-weight women, researchers found that 98.4 percent of the overweight women had higher levels of a particular type of bacteria called Selenomonas noxia, which has been linked to periodontal (gum) disease.

In other words, “it appears the oral bacteria of obese people are different from the oral bacteria of controls,” says Dr. J. Max Goodson, the co-author of the study and a senior member of the staff at The Forsyth Institute, in Boston.

Why Gum Disease Is so Dangerous
At this point, the exact mechanism between oral bacteria and obesity isn’t known, but the relationship between periodontal disease and obesity is well-established. It may be that the bacteria from the oral cavity (aka your mouth) travel into the gastrointestinal tract, where they turn into bacteria that are better at converting food into calories that are absorbed by the body, says Goodson. “You swallow almost a gram of oral bacteria per day,” he explains, so if you harbor bacteria that could promote weight gain, that’s a significant amount. Or it may be that the potentially problematic oral bacteria stimulate appetite by increasing certain hormones like ghrelin.

In addition, inflammation may play a role, especially since both periodontal disease and obesity involve inflammation. “It’s known that central adiposity -- increased fat around the abdomen -- can lead to a hyper-inflammatory response, including an increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can lead to more periodontal disease,” explains Dr. Robert Genco, distinguished professor of oral biology and microbiology at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo.

Periodontal disease has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, preterm labor in pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, and various types of cancer (such as oral, esophageal, gastric, and pancreatic).

The Simple Solution: Upgrade Your Oral Hygiene
To protect yourself from these health conditions and perhaps obesity too, start thoroughly brushing your teeth and tongue at least twice per day and regularly flossing to clean between teeth, says Genco.

Even the most stellar oral hygiene won’t get rid of all the bacteria in your mouth, but it will keep the numbers down, says Goodson. Also, be sure to have professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. And if you do develop periodontal disease, getting it treated early and thoroughly may help protect you from obesity and a variety of other health problems, from head to toe.         

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Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Sveta

by Stacey Colino