You might wonder why we blog about gum disease so much. One is that it’s just so common. Most adults have it to one degree or another. (The Standard American Diet has a whole lot to do with that.) Another is that it offers such clear examples of focal infection, where a problem in one area of the body contributes to problems elsewhere.
The conditions now linked to poor periodontal health include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, cognitive decline, and certain cancers.
One thing that all of these health issues have in common is chronic inflammation. Indeed, inflammation – think red, puffy gums that easily bleed when you brush or floss – is a hallmark of gum disease. Other research has suggested the migration of harmful oral bacteria to other organs, such as the heart, knees, and brain.
Still, there’s much we’ve left to learn about these interrelationships and the various factors at play, one of which was the focus of new research out of the University of Buffalo.
With obesity being a well-known risk factor for gum disease, researchers developed an animal model to study the link. They took two groups of mice that were fed different diets over a 16 week period. One group ate a low-fat diet, while the other was given a diet meant to induce obesity and inflammation.
And indeed, it did – and more. The inflammation group also showed an increase in a kind of immune cells called myeloid-derived suppressor cells, or MDSCs for short. They increase during illness to help regulate immune function and further develop into different types of cells, including a kind called osteoclasts, which break down bone tissue.
Bone loss is a result of advanced gum disease.
The mice that ate the inflammatory diet in fact did lose more alveolar bone, which is the bone that holds teeth in place. As that bone is lost, the teeth loosen in their sockets and eventually fall out – if they’re not recommended for extraction before the disease gets to that stage.
“This research promotes the concept that MDSC expansion during obesity to become osteoclasts during periodontitis is tied to increased alveolar bone destruction. Taken together, this data supports the view that obesity raises the risk of periodontal bone loss,” says Kyuhwan Kwack, PhD, postdoctoral associate in the UB Department of Oral Biology.
Another of the study’s authors notes that these findings may also be helpful in understanding other bone-related health problems associated with obesity, such as arthritis.