How Childhood Obesity Affects Oral Health

September 28, 2018

Happy group of kids playing and smiling at the park

It’s certainly no secret that obesity has become a major concern in American society. Childhood obesity in particular has become a growing problem in recent years. In fact, the childhood obesity rate currently stands at 18.5 percent. A 2016 publication from the American Dental Association (ADA) cited the Centers for Disease control in the following statistic: “Obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” Childhood obesity can have major repercussions well into adulthood for those who suffer from it. In addition to general health risks, there are oral health risks associated with obesity.

However, there are many options to help preserve the oral health of children facing obesity. Let’s take a look at some ways childhood obesity can affect general and oral health, and how to develop habits that will lead to a longer, healthier life.

General health risks

Being obese from a young age can have many repercussions on children as they grow and age, often leading to health risks later in life. Most of us know the major risks associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, childhood obesity can also lead to other problems, such as asthma, sleep apnea, joint problems, an increased risk of gallstones, and other ailments or conditions. 

Effects on oral health

For many children, one of the major contributing factors to obesity is overconsumption of sugar. This can be in the form of sugary beverages such as soda and non-fruit juice, candy, or processed foods, which often contain sugar in some form. (Even some types of bread have contain high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup!)

Sugar can be extremely detrimental to our oral health. As children, we may have all heard that sugar will “rot our teeth.” This is actually true. Our mouths are filled with various types of bacteria, and when some of these bacteria encounter sugar, the reaction can lead to a breakdown of enamel, or tooth decay, which is the cause of cavities.

Additionally, overconsumption of sugar can lead to an increase of bacteria in the mouth, which can disrupt a healthy pH balance. This is another way that sugar can contribute to poor oral health. Over time, the acidity of your mouth becomes too high for your teeth, leading to further tooth decay, and eventually, more cavities. When cavities are not properly dealt with in a timely manner, they can often lead to more costly dental problems.  

Developing good habits

The best way to counteract or prevent childhood obesity is with a healthy, well-rounded diet. Sugar should only be consumed in the most minimal quantities, and focus should be placed on fresh, whole foods, such as fresh vegetables and lean proteins.

Adequate water consumption is also key to good oral health. This is because water helps to remove debris and maintain healthy saliva levels. Adequate saliva production helps defend against tooth decay because it contains proteins and minerals that protect enamel from acids.

Another important step in combating childhood obesity: increasing activity levels. When children have a sedentary lifestyle and spend their time watching television or playing video games, they are more likely to become overweight. Making sure children stay active is just as important as making sure they eat well.

By practicing these habits, children may be at a lower risk for obesity, which will set them up for a longer, healthier, more active life.


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