Q I know that being overweight is bad for my joints, heart and other organs, but I recently heard being fat can also affect my teeth and gums. Is that true?

A You heard correctly. Yes, being overweight can have an adverse effect on your oral health.

Here’s why: Fat is not simply inert, excess weight. We now know that it is a metabolically active organ, like your liver or kidneys. That means fat can secrete chemical substances. In fact, it can secrete more than 50 different chemical substances. These bioactive materials can include pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a broad category of small proteins that are important in cell signaling. Their release has an effect on the behavior of cells around them. When you are overweight, your fat can actually signal other cells in your body to go into protection mode and cause inflammation.

Inflammation can weaken the body and allow beneficial bacteria to be out of balance in the mouth or it may also allow harmful bacteria to take up residence and cause gum disease or periodontitis. Without proper treatment, periodontitis can cause you to lose valuable gum tissue, teeth and even the support of your jawbone. This “host response” can also fan the flames of inflammation system-wide causing you to feel tired, sluggish, and generally sick.

Likewise those with gum disease, or periodontitis, may increase their chance of gaining weight due to the body’s response to excess bacteria in the mouth. Periodontitis and obesity share common inflammatory pathways. Both increase the level of inflammation in the body, which decreases your health overall.

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While the simple method of eating less calories and moving your body more is a tried and true way to lose weight, sometimes we need a little nudge in the right direction.

Start today with just one of the below strategies to lose excess weight, decrease your risk of illness, and, as a bonus, give you stronger teeth and gums:

  • Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables. High fiber foods such as kale, green beans, spinach and celery often require more chewing and more chewing means more saliva, which neutralizes mouth bacteria.
  • Eat an apple, slowly. Munching hard fruits and vegetables helps break up the plaque that clings to gums and teeth.
  • Drink half of your body weight in ounces of water everyday.
  • Cut your dessert in half!
  • Eat slowly and put your fork down after every bite.
  • Make it a priority to eat at least two cups of raw vegetables every day.
  • Before you eat anything sweet, take a 30 minute walk, no matter how slow you need to go.
  • Become familiar with your waist circumference and how it affects your health. A waist circumference of over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men increase the risk of Metabolic Syndrome.
  • Get recommendations from your healthcare practitioner about supplements that can decrease your body’s inflammatory load.