Obesity-Related Inflammation Linked to Periodontal Diseases

model of a tooth

model of a tooth
Bet_Noire / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Periodontal diseases affect more than 47% of adults ages 30 and older, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and obesity has been found to be a major contributor.1Associated with accumulated excessive fat, obesity has become a major public health problem across the world. It is prevalent in all age groups, but middle-aged adults experience the highest rate of obesity, along with its attendant health risks. One of these pertains to oral health.2

A connection between obesity, inflammation, and periodontal diseases has been shown in countless studies, though this relationship has never been well understood. But recent research conducted at the University at Buffalo (UB) has demonstrated that inflammation stemming from obesity increases the number of immune cells in the body that are activated in the presence of illness.3

These cells, called myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC), originate in the bone marrow. During states of obesity, they expand. MDSC can morph into a variety of cell types, including osteoclasts, which break down bone tissue throughout the body. The researchers focused on how MDSCs may contribute toward obesity-associated periodontal diseases. After all, alveolar bone loss is a major indicator of periodontitis, and often leads to tooth loss.3


The study concentrated on two groups of mice. For 16 weeks, one group was fed a high-fat diet and the other was fed a low-fat diet. Researchers then used flow cytometry to assess the spleens of the test subjects. They found that, compared to the group that was fed a low-fat diet, the high-fat diet group exhibited not only obesity and more inflammation, but a greater increase of MDSCs in the bone marrow and spleen, and a significantly larger number of osteoclasts, which resulted in more severe alveolar bone loss.3

Researcher Kyuhwan Kwack, PhD, post-doctoral associate in the UB Department of Oral Biology notes, “This research promotes the concept that MDSC expansion during obesity to become osteoclasts during periodontitis is tied to increased alveolar bone destruction. Taken together, these data support the view that obesity raises the risk of periodontal bone loss.”4


While more in vivo research is needed, this study provides insights that may help oral health professionals in their efforts to educate patients on how to optimize gingival health. Of course, good oral hygiene is an important component in this regard.  

Improving oral hygiene regimens may include everything from interdental cleaning and incorporating antimicrobial mouthrinses into daily care to using probiotics and ensuring regular oral hygiene visits. These measures can raise the odds of winning the battle against alveolar bone loss and periodontitis—especially for those struggling with obesity.  

Researchers are hoping their work will also help shed light on additional problems associated with obesity, including arthritis and osteoporosis. One of the researchers, Keith Kirkwood, DDS, PhD, professor of oral biology at the UB School of Dental Medicine, observes that the study findings may help illuminate how other chronic inflammatory, bone-related diseases, such as arthritis and osteoporosis, develop in relationship to obesity.4


  1. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Periodontal Disease. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/periodontal-disease.html
  2. Tolle SL, Newcomb TL, Conover J. The relationship between obesity and periodontal diseases. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Available at: https://dimensionsofdentalhygiene.com/article/the-relationship-between-obesity-and-periodontal-diseases/
  3. Kwack KH, Zhang L, Sohn J. Novel preosteoclast populations in obesity-associated periodontal disease. J Dent Res. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00220345211040729?journalCode=jdrb
  4. Robinson M. Obesity raises the risk of gum disease by inflating growth of bone-destroying cells. Available at: https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2021/11/011.html
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