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How Being Overweight Damages Dental Health and How You Can Take Control
Doctors and other experts have made it clear that being overweight can significantly hamper your health, even causing diabetes or heart disease. TV shows and talk show hosts feature victims of obesity defeating all odds and discovering better health, physically and mentally. But rarely do we see how being overweight can impact your oral health. And it’s your mouth (and smile) that showcases your mood, personality, and level of self-confidence to everyone you encounter, everyday.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) states that 35.7% of US adults are obese. This does not account for children, or people who are slightly overweight. Being overweight can impact mental health as well – you can become self-conscious, lose your smile, and lose your self-confidence. But did you know that being overweight can physically affect your mouth health, too?
Being Overweight Spoils Your Smile
When you gain weight, the gums and bones in your mouth also change. These changes may cause teeth to move, a bite to change, or teeth to fracture. If gaps develop between the teeth, food may frequently get caught in them, which can lead to periodontal disease or cavities. And if the pH level in your mouth drops below 5.5, the acids can permanently diminish tooth enamel, making tooth decay more likely.
Binge dieting might keep people at a healthy weight part of the time. But consider how fluctuations in weight can impact your dental health:
- Gaps may develop, allowing food to get caught
- Gums may swell, hurt while eating, or bleed while brushing
- Teeth may develop stains
- Fillings, onlays, ceramic veneers, crowns, fixed bridges, or dental implants may develop gaps
- Removable dentures may feel tighter or looser
- Bite guards may no longer fit
If dental problems persist, you may have to extract unhealthy teeth, replace dental work, undergo gum surgery, or even consider dental implants (internal link).
Being Overweight Wears Down Your Dental Health
How can being overweight do so much damage to your teeth, smile, and confidence? Sugar is the culprit!
While most people know that high amounts of sugary foods will add weight, the link between obesity, sugar and poor oral health gets even more involved. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research found a single bacteria species called Selenomons noxia in 98.4% of its overweight subjects. The same foods that breed this bacteria also trigger weight gain – foods with a high glycemic index like white breads, corn breads, potato chips, beer and liquor (except red wine). These foods convert to simple sugars as you digest them.
These same simple sugars produced when eating high glycemic foods transform easily into plaque when not removed from your mouth. As plaque builds up on your teeth and along your gum line, you risk encountering oral health problems like tooth decay, gum disease, gingivitis, and periodontitis.
Reading Food Labels Becomes Half the Battle
All forms of sugar and complex carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by your body for energy. But sugars appear on labels under several names:
- Corn Syrup – extracted from corn
- Fructose – found in fruits and honey
- Lactose – comes from milk and dairy products
- Maltose – found in beer and some cereal grains
- Sucrose – refined table sugar, derived from sugar beets or sugar cane
According to livestrong.com, one teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories. While the USDA does not provide a specific recommendation for daily sugar intake, it does recommend a “discretionary” calorie limit between 100 and 300 calories for most people. Discretionary calories account for any foods consumed outside of the five main food groups providing necessary nutrients. Solid fats, alcohol, and sugars (except fructose from whole foods or fruits) are discretionary calories. In 2003, World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report, suggesting that discretionary sugars make up less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake.
Limiting sugars to maintain healthy weight and teeth makes sense, especially given that a high consumption of sugar increases cravings for more of it. Sugar addiction can become a vicious detriment to your oral and physical health. In fact, in Another Reason to Stay in Shape: Healthy Teeth and Gums, the American Academy of Periodontology cites one study that used body mass index (BMI) to predict periodontitis. Subjects with the lowest BMI and highest levels of fitness had significantly lower rates of severe periodontitis.
Reducing Sugar Intake Helps Win the Battle
Clearly, being overweight compromises dental health as well as physical health. And by cutting out unnecessary sugars, you can begin to rediscover your ideal weight and overall health. Consider starting with these steps to reduce sugar consumption:
- Eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups, including lean sources of protein (lean beef, skinless poultry, fish, dry beans, peas, other legumes), fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-far or fat-free dairy products.
- Drink half your weight in ounces of water daily, or more for excessive heat and exercise. (If 200lbs, aim for 100 ounces or about 6 16-oz. bottles.) If you need a reminder how crucial water is to your health, read You Need To Drink More Water.
- Avoid soft drinks. Replace with water, flavored water or green tea.
- Avoid candy, cookies, and pastries. Or at least limit them to small amounts once or twice a week.
- Limit snacks. Many nutritionists recommend five or six smaller meals per day for optimal energy and health. But, more saliva is produced during meals, which helps wash foods from your mouth, lessening harmful acid build-up. Choose healthy snacks like raw vegetables and fruits, cheese, peanut butter, or nuts.
- Beware of “low-sugar” or “sugar-free” labels. Many low-sugar or sugar-free products use artificial sweeteners instead. Controversy looms about potential health risks associated with use of artificial sweeteners. Dr. Oz’s article Artificial Sweeteners and Other Food Substitutes: Dangerous to Your Health? elaborates.
- If you need help altering your diet, consult your doctor or sign up for Supertracker where you can personalize a diet and exercise plan, track them and get support from others.
By being overweight, you’re putting your health at risk from teeth to toes. You can overcome dental consequences, like missing teeth, with solutions like dental implants from [dental client with link]. But avoid more serious health risks like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer by making better food choices, starting today!