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Staying Slim May Help Fight Gum Disease

Researchers have found a new reason to stay slim: It may help fight gum disease.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health has found that overweight adults are at a higher risk of gum disease than normal-weight people.

The study, led by Monik Jimenez, an HSPH doctoral candidate, looked at the possible links between excess weight and periodontal disease — one of the most common dental diseases.

Jimenez and her colleagues analyzed the data of 37,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, an HSPH longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which has been following over 51,000 male health professionals since 1986. All of the men were disease-free at the beginning of the study and were followed for up to 16 years, from 1986-2002. The researchers gathered information such as the men's height, weight and self-reported gum disease diagnoses, as well as waist and hip measurements.

According to Jimenez, "Obesity was associated with a 29 percent increased risk of periodontal disease over the course of the study" compared to those of normal weight, The researchers used the standard definition of obesity as a body-mass index of 30 or higher. "This is one of the first, if not the first, study demonstrating such a significant relationship in such a large group of people," Frank B. Hu, a professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at HSPH told the Harvard Crimson.

The study's researchers said they believe that the link is fostered by adipokines, inflammatory chemicals secreted by fatty tissue. Increased adiposity, measured by higher waist-to-hip ratio, leads to increased production of cytokines, which are thought to promote periodontal disease, according to Hu.

Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis. According to the American Dental Association, gingivitis is a milder and reversible form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums. Gingivitis may lead to more serious, destructive forms of periodontal disease called periodontitis — which could lead to tooth loss.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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