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Many of us approach the new year with a resolution to attain or maintain a healthy weight because we are concerned about the medical risks of being overweight or obese. These include heart disease, diabetes, joint pain and sleep apnea. Losing weight lowers risk for all of these. A new study, recently published in the Journal of Periodontology, is of particular interest to the dental community. Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine found the human body can fight gum disease more effectively when fat cells, which trigger inflammation, disappear.

This conclusion came from a pilot study of 31 obese people with gum disease. Half of the group had gastric bypass surgery with fat cells removed from the abdomen, while the other half were treated for gum disease but did not have the bypass surgery. All study participants had treatment for gum disease and instructions for home care. Both groups showed improvement, but the surgery group did better. There are two theories for the outcome of the study. One is that losing weight improves the diabetic status of the patient which increases the effectiveness of periodontal treatment. The other relates to the presence of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin which is linked to inflammation. Leptin production is reduced after bariatric surgery and may be one explanation for the better outcomes. The next step is to conduct a longer study to support these findings. In any case, the study adds improved dental health to the list of benefits of significant weight loss.