Is There A Link Between Childhood Obesity And Oral Health?

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. Consider the statistics. Nearly one in five children between the ages of 6 and 19 are obese. That percentage has tripled since the 1970s.

While that’s alarming, research suggests that talking to kids about what is and what isn’t healthy for their teeth, can prevent them from becoming overweight.

What Does the Research Say About Childhood Obesity and Oral Health?

In a Swedish study of 271 children, their height, weight and food intake were evaluated. Then, researchers analyzed the prevalence of unhealthy bacteria in their saliva. The children with the highest risk of developing cavities had significantly higher BMIs and worse eating habits. They also ate more often throughout the day and chose foods higher in sugar.

As a result of the findings, Louise Arvidsson, who studied the issue, said, “There is absolutely a possibility to catch these children and talk about food habits. There needs to be a good collaboration between the general dentistry, the child health care, and schools.”

While addressing obesity risks with patients might seem to be outside the scope of dentistry, patients seem to be ready for it. In a separate study, 76% of patients indicated they’d be willing to have their height and weight documented by their dentist—clearly, that would be a step in the right direction, allowing dentists to initiate conversations about healthy eating when tracking unhealthy weight gain, for example.

What Impact Does Healthy Eating Have on Children?

In other studies Arvidsson piloted, she found that children who practice healthy eating have higher self-esteem, better friendship relationships, and less emotional problems. Furthermore, those who follow general dietary recommendations—heavy on the whole grains, daily fruits and vegetables, fish a couple times a week, and low intake of sugar and saturated fat—experience better mental wellbeing.

What Can I Do to Improve My Children’s Oral Health?

There are several things you can do to improve your children’s oral health:

  • Set a Good Example. It isn’t just enough to encourage your children to eat healthy—you have to set an example for them. If you preach the importance of healthy eating but regularly gorge on cookies, your kids will follow your lead. Instead, make healthy choices yourself and keep plenty of nutritious snacks on hand. Children who can’t reach for a candy bar will opt for fruit, if they’re hungry enough.
  • Make Brushing & Flossing Easy. A lot of kids don’t like to brush or floss. We get it—a lot of adults don’t like doing those things either. That’s why we suggest buying dental products your kids like—flavored dental floss and electric toothbrushes, for example. Although these actions are relatively small, they can make a big difference in how your kids approach taking care of their teeth.
  • Schedule Regular Dental Checkups. When it comes to good oral hygiene, we always stress the importance of prevention—it’s always preferable, for example, to prevent cavities, rather than to treat them once they’re present. For that reason, we encourage you to keep current on your kids’ checkups, so they can experience the best possible oral care.

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