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An Apple a Day: Diet and Exercise May Prevent Gum Disease

Moderate exercise five times a week could improve gum health.

Exercise helps you maintain your weight and improve muscle tone. But can working out also improve your dental health? Yes, according to one study. Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine have discovered that people of a normal weight who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet are less likely to have gum disease. The study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, suggests that a healthy lifestyle may help prevent periodontal disease.

The Study

Researchers took the same factors that lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease into account when analyzing data from 12,110 participants of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that those who exercised regularly, had healthy eating habits and maintained their weight were 40 percent less likely to develop periodontal disease than their counterparts. Those who met two of the criteria lowered their risk by 29 percent, while participants with just one healthy virtue had a 16 percent less chance of developing gum disease.

Overall, only seven percent of those who met all three of the criteria had some form of gum disease. The participants who had a poor diet, limited physical activity and were considered overweight totaled 18 percent, suggesting that obesity can more than double your chances of developing periodontal disease. Scientists predict the number could even be greater, if you take into account that some of the participants may not have provided accurate information.

Why?

Scientists aren't exactly sure why these factors may decrease your chances of developing gum disease. It's already known that healthy eating can help build up your immune system. Scientists now theorize that eating healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, may also help remove dental plaque from teeth. It's also believed that obesity promotes gum inflammation, while physical activity may decrease it.


The Smoking Disadvantage

On the other hand, the same study revealed that smokers who exercised regularly did not significantly decrease their risk of getting periodontal disease. But that doesn't mean it's not too late to quit! Out of the participants who had been exercising for at least 10 years, former smokers decreased their risk of developing periodontal problems by 75 percent! Nonsmokers also showed significantly less risk at 55 percent.

The Age Factor

The findings of this study are especially important for anyone over the age of 35. As we age, our metabolism slows down -- and our risk of developing gum disease increases. Eating well and exercising not only helps us maintain our weight but could also reduce the risk of gum disease. This is excellent news for seniors, who are more susceptible to periodontal disease and resulting tooth loss.

What this Means for You

This recent information only helps support the theory that dental health is related to your overall health. Gum disease has already been linked to stroke, diabetes, heart disease and complications during pregnancy, but this is the first study that targets obesity as a possible cause of periodontal disease. If you're overweight, you're not only risking developing several medical conditions but dental problems as well.

While a healthy lifestyle may help improve your dental health, it's not a substitute for your oral hygiene routine. Brushing, flossing and regular dental visits are still the best way to prevent dental problems and manage any periodontal problems that might arise.

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