The Link Between Obesity and Gum Disease

If you’ve been diagnosed with gum disease, either gingivitis or periodontitis, you might have come across information or received advice suggesting that obesity can elevate your chances of developing periodontal disease. You might wonder if this is true and how obesity contributes to an increased risk.

It’s true, numerous studies have shown that being overweight increases your risk of developing gum disease. However, the mechanisms that link obesity and periodontitis are not completely understood but several theories have been suggested. 

The good news is that you can help prevent or control gum disease by managing your weight and maintaining your oral health. 

obesity and gum disease

First a bit background on both conditions.

A Brief Overview

Gum Disease

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a common dental issue triggered by bacterial plaque building up on the teeth and gums. Some people are more susceptible to the disease due to their genetics or lifestyle factors such as smoking, diabetes and diet.

Periodontal disease often starts with gum inflammation known as gingivitis, characterized by symptoms like redness and bleeding when brushing. Gingivitis can usually be reversed with improved oral care.

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease. Periodontitis involves deeper inflammation, pocket formation between the teeth and gums, and potential bone and tooth loss.

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Obesity is a complex health condition characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat, otherwise known as adipose tissue. There is an increase in the number of fat cells, their size, or a combination of the two.

Obesity is often the result of an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure caused by numerous contributing factors, including genetics, diet, physical activity, and environmental influences. 

Being overweight increases your risk of a range of inflammatory diseases and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and gum disease. It’s not fully understood how but scientific evidence suggests that fat cells produce chemicals that disrupt many of the body’s processes and pathways and as a result affect many cells at sites distant from the fat.

Find out more about obesity on the World Health Organization’s Website


Can Gum Disease Cause Obesity?

Obesity doesn’t cause gum disease but it has been shown to increase your chances of developing gum disease which may be more severe and more difficult to treat similar to how smoking, diabetes, and poor oral hygiene affect the disease. 

A study, in 2009, showed that individuals with excess weight had double the incidence of periodontitis while individuals with severe obesity had triple the incidence (1).

How Does Obesity Increase The Risk

Exactly how obesity causes gum diseases isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought to be partly due to the secretion of chemicals by the adipose tissue leading to chronic inflammation, a weakened immune system, decreased bone metabolism and poor wound healing in combination with lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor diet, and stress that can cause both obesity and gum disease.

Excess Body Fat Makes Gum Disease More Likely

Body fat contains cells which play a vital role in the storage and release of energy throughout the body (adipocytes) and other cells which produce hormones and cytokines that send signals throughout the body. 

As someone’s weight increases there’s an increase in adipose tissue, which in turn causes a change in the balance of cytokines and hormones. This can affect cells distant from where the fat is stored (usually around organs in the belly or under the surface of the skin in the bottom and hips.)

Obesity Causes Inflammation

Cytokines are small proteins that send messages or signals between cells. Three of these cytokines are called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α), Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Leptin.

These cytokines are important in the control of inflammation, a defence mechanism that’s vital to health. However, when inflammation is persistent, or chronic it becomes damaging to health.

It’s thought that IL-6 and TNF-α cause the destruction of cells in the periodontal ligaments and bones that hold the teeth in place. 

Leptin, which plays a role in controlling appetite also has a role in bone metabolism and inflammation. As adipose tissue increases the increase in Leptin may result in bone loss due to dysregulated bone metabolism. Some studies have shown that leptin stops cells in the periodontal ligaments from regenerating and this may prevent the tissues from healing following periodontal treatment. 

Immune Response Is Weakened

Obese people, even those who eat well and exercise are at risk of decreased immune function. As fat cells increase there is a reduction in the number of immune cells, which fight infections, including oral bacteria that trigger gum disease. Studies have shown that obese people are at an increased risk of infection. It’s also thought that some other cytokines (Visfatin, Leptin), secreted by fat cells influence our immune cells

Inflammation and Obesity Lead To Insulin Resistance

Obesity is often associated with insulin resistance and elevated levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Research suggests that insulin resistance may contribute to gum disease by promoting inflammation and impairing the body’s ability to respond effectively to infection.

Being overweight also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is also a risk factor for developing severe periodontal diseases. 

Shared Risk Factors

Obesity shares risk factors with gum disease, such as poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. 

Several studies have shown that exercise boosts the body’s immune responses and reduces inflammation. Leading a sedentary lifestyle removes your natural methods of reducing inflammation and stress as well as burning calories.

Diets high in sugar and processed foods can contribute to both obesity and gum disease. Eating a diet high in sugar and processed food causes you to consume excess calories and oral bacteria love sugar putting you at risk of being obese and having gum disease. 

Oral Health Challenges

Obesity may lead to certain oral health challenges, such as difficulties in properly cleaning the teeth and gums due to limited mobility or access to dental care. These challenges can increase the risk of plaque and bacteria buildup, and thus gum disease.

Does Losing Weight Lower The Risk Of Gum Disease?

Yes, when you lose weight it can decrease the inflammation in your body and reduce the risk of gum disease. You also reduce the risk of other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Inflammation also stops you from losing weight – so if you lose a bit of weight, you’ll reduce inflammation which will help you lose more weight.

How to Prevent Obesity and Gum Disease

Preventing both obesity and gum disease involves adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. Here are some tips on how to prevent both conditions:

1. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Consume a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Limit the intake of sugary and processed foods and beverages, as they can contribute to both obesity and gum disease.

2. Stay Physically Active: Engage in regular physical activity to help control body weight, reduce inflammation and promote overall health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

3. Practice Good Oral Hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and clean the interdental spaces daily to remove plaque and prevent gum disease. 

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4. Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleanings. Early detection and treatment of gum disease can prevent its progression. If you don’t have a dentist read our guide on curing gum disease without a dentist

5. Avoid Tobacco Products: Smoking and tobacco use are significant risk factors for both obesity and gum disease. Quitting or avoiding these products can improve your overall health.

6. Manage Stress: High-stress levels can contribute to unhealthy eating and oral hygiene habits and may indirectly affect gum health. Practice stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or meditation.

7. Monitor Your Weight: Keep an eye on your weight and strive to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).

8. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water helps wash away food particles and bacteria in the mouth and can contribute to good oral health.

9. Limit Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to weight gain and may increase the risk of gum disease. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

10. Get Adequate Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Poor sleep can impact your appetite and make it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

By incorporating these preventive measures into your daily routine, you can reduce the risk of both obesity and gum disease, promoting better overall health and well-being. 

The Bottom Line

The number and size of fat cells increase with weight gain, which can disrupt processes in your body that can increase your risk of gum disease. So, if you’re looking to prevent or treat gum disease, losing weight in combination with good oral hygiene is key. You can do this by keeping on top of your oral hygiene, getting enough sleep, eating more anti-inflammatory foods, decreasing stress levels and avoiding processed foods and added sugars.


  1. Khader YS, Bawadi HA, Haroun TF, Alomari M, Tayyem RF. The association between periodontal disease and obesity among adults in Jordan. J Clin Periodontol. 2009 Jan;36(1):18-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-051X.2008.01345.x. Epub 2008 Nov 19. PMID: 19046327. Accessed here
  2. Coelho M, Oliveira T, Fernandes R. Biochemistry of adipose tissue: an endocrine organ. Arch Med Sci. 2013 Apr 20;9(2):191-200. doi: 10.5114/aoms.2013.33181. Epub 2013 Feb 10. PMID: 23671428; PMCID: PMC3648822. Accessed here

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Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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