Over 34 percent of adults in the U.S. are affected by obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). It is an issue that causes almost $147 billion in healthcare costs. A recent study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health (SPH) looked at whether dental care is a factor in obesity. The study found a correlation between the number of dentists and the rate of adult obesity in a number of counties in the U.S.
The SPH study was published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Specifically, the study examined how the obesity rate was affected in a county when there was an additional dentist in the community per every 10,000 people. The results found that the obesity rate dropped 1 percent for each additional dentist.
The lead author of the study was Jessica Holzer, currently a professor at Hofstra University in New York. Holzer conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale SPH. Holzer’s research team accessed public information from the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, which included numbers on the county-level obesity rates. They chose prevalence of dentists as their variable when they recognized that it had never been part of an obesity rate study. According to Holzer, researchers found that dentists play an important role in fighting obesity. She noted, “The simple fact that there was this relationship was striking.”
Although the researchers found a correlation between obesity rates and the number of dentists in a county, more studies are needed to identify the causes behind the correlation. In the journal article, Holzer speculated about possible causes. One explanation she offered was that people who go to the dentist on a regular basis may already be health-conscious, and not be as likely to eat foods that lead to obesity. Another potential explanation was that dentists are promoting healthy behaviors at regular dental visits.
There is no question that obesity in children is a rising problem in the U.S. The CDC says that in 2012 more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. In addition, obese children have almost two times the risk of having physical problems. Childhood happens to be a time when dental habits are established. Teaching children proper nutrition habits can help combat obesity while helping them improve their smiles at the same time.
It’s important for children to learn how to eat healthy while they are young. They should be offered plenty of fruits and vegetables each day. In addition to being healthy for the body, these healthy foods remove plaque from teeth. That is because many fruits and vegetables need to be chewed well, which increases saliva production—and saliva removes plaque from teeth. Children should also be encouraged to drink lots of fluoridated water. There are numerous benefits to drinking water. For example, the fluoride in water adds minerals to teeth and reverses damage to enamel from acids in some food and drinks.
The easiest way to take care of oral health in children and adults is to brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Then everyone should see the dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning and exam.