When it comes to childhood obesity in the United States, New York is right in the middle of the pack. Our childhood obesity rate is smack dab in the middle for 2-4 year olds (ranked 26th in the US), and slightly higher for kids over age 10 (ranked 20th).
Childhood obesity can be a curse that follows children into and throughout adulthood, making it challenging to ever reach and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is accompanied by an increased likelihood of developing a number of dangerous and even deadly diseases. And while lifestyle and diet are certainly a key part of weight development in children, new research suggests that oral health might play a role, too.
Swedish Research Uncovers a Connection
Louise Arvidsson, registered dietitian and PhD student at the Institute of Medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden, was interested in doing some research into children’s weight and health.
One of the categories of her research investigated oral health as it relates to weight. To do this, she reviewed information about the diet, BMI, and dental health of nearly 300 Swedish children. What she found was a statistically significant link between poor eating habits and the presence of cavity-causing microorganisms in saliva. The children with worse dental health had higher BMIs, ate more often, and consumed more sugar-rich foods than their peers with healthier mouths.
Of course, whether this is correlation or causation is still up for debate. But the message remains clear: Good oral health and good overall health, as always, go hand in hand.
Oral Health and Overall Health are Closely Tied
What research like Arvidsson’s has demonstrated time and time again is that oral health and overall health are more closely tied than people tend to think. Recognizing what a large role your teeth, gums, and mouth play in your whole-body health might be the key to taking your oral hygiene more seriously.
Your mouth is a weak point in your body’s armor; the thermal exhaust port to your body’s Death Star. Everything from breathing to eating and drinking can bring foreign bacteria into your body through your mouth. Oral bacteria can damage your digestive tract and even your heart.
Of course, even if those bacteria stay in your mouth, they can still cause whole-body trouble. Oral infections, if untreated, can spread to your jaw, neck, and even your brain. And gum disease, which a staggering half of Americans suffer from, has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, having healthy teeth and gums enables healthy eating habits — missing or painful teeth can force people to change their diets for the worse, or even prevent them from getting the nutrients they need.
But you don’t have to let these ties scare you. Instead, see your oral health as just another facet of your overall health, and take it just as seriously as you do any other health issue. This means performing excellent and consistent at-home oral hygiene, and seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.