Obesity and periodontal disease often appear to be tethered to one another. In children, that link requires parents and health care providers to monitor each variable in an effort to maintain the overall health of those they care for.
One explanation is the change in eating and drinking habits of children. More sugared sodas, power drinks and fruit juice substitutes make up our young adults beverages of choice. Ironically milk and “healthy”- 100% juices given to children in bottles and sippy cups also contributes to the problem. The array of snack food available is overwhelming. The low fat variety, although at first glance may appear healthy, actually contains more sugar than the high fat variety. A lot less vitamin C and calcium are ingested per calories by children today. All of these factors add to the total number of empty calories consumed by children.
This change in diet along with less physical activity adds weight to children, particularly those predisposed to obesity. The average number of hours in front of a television set or computer grows each year.
One explanation for the link between obesity and periodontal disease is through the pathway of insulin resistance. Those who are obese produce more cytokines, putting the body in the state of constantly fighting infection and producing insulin resistance. Another, yet proven hypothesis for the link between obesity and periodontal disease is that the bacteria from gum disease may be interfering with fat metabolism.
Unfortunately the symptoms of periodontal disease are often not noticeable until the disease is advanced. A dentist can diagnose the disease in the early stages, prior to parents realizing their children have it. Thus, it is important that children receive regular six-month oral check ups and cleanings.
Periodontal disease is controlled by a disciplined and meticulous oral cleaning regimen, both at the dental office and at home. Professional treatment may require below the gum line scraping, three-month check ups instead of the traditional six-month, and a prescription oral rinse. Home treatment requires thorough plaque removal by brushing and flossing at least twice a day. Because it is a laborious task to floss, most children (and adults) don’t.
Many children are negligent about their tooth brushing and flossing. As a parent it is important to find a way to enhance the experience, make it an expectation and a part of a twice daily routine. Remember studies now show that oral health is critical to total health.
Dr. Piero, a practicing dentist for over twenty five years, is the inventor of Dental Air Force® (www.dentalairforce.com). Articles published are on periodontal health related to heart disease, respiratory health, diabetes, strokes, and other systemic diseases. He is the Executive Editor for Journal of Experimental Dental Science, a contributing author to Hospital Infection Control: Clinical Guidelines and soon-to-be published book, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.