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When you conjure up the image of a person with missing permanent teeth, you probably don’t think of a child. However, this is an entirely possible scenario, and often due to trauma of some sort. But what is less likely and more surprising is kids losing teeth due to secondary conditions, like obesity, or bad habits, like smoking.

It’s not news that the U.S. is one of the fattest countries in the world, and our bad dietary habits are trickling down to our kids. While the stigma of “being fat” can harm a child’s self-image, there are a whole host of issues to deal with: increased risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes, joint issues, loss of mobility, etc. Obesity can even increase the risk for oral issues, like losing teeth. Tooth loss is heavily tied with gum health, which obesity can wreak havoc on.

For instance, a study conducted by Diabetes Care found some staggering results in regards to obese children and their gum health:

Study finds 99% of obese kids have inflamed gums

The vast majority of overweight and obese children show signs of gingivitis, according to a study in Diabetes Care. While the study was relatively small, the authors highlight the need for a multidisciplinary approach to care for children with excess body fat. Researchers from Argentina and California wanted to see if excess body fat in children was tied to a number of inflammatory conditions. They hypothesized that overweight and obese kids may also have periodontal disease because of the inflammatory processes of other diseases associated with obesity, such as insulin resistance (Diabetes Care, October 14, 2016).
“Obesity, considered a global epidemic by the World Health Organization, represents one of the most serious health problems in both children and adults,” wrote the authors, led by Patricia Lucia Casavalle. “In Argentina, [obesity] and [overweight] prevalence in childhood and adolescence has increased in the last decades to 34.6% of school children.”
Almost 99% of obese children and 85% of overweight children had at least some gingival inflammation. The researchers also found a statistically significant correlation between children with gingivitis and insulin resistance, a condition in which cells don’t respond properly to glucose. Read full article here . . .

Although this study has been criticized for not having a wide enough pool for samples, it’s still worth learning more about. If young overweight children are at such an extreme risk for periodontal disease, then parents need to not only strategize with their family doctor, but with their dentist as well.

Sadly, while dental implants are a fantastic and popular solution today for missing teeth, children cannot get these because their jaws are still growing. This means that a child with missing teeth may have to opt for less-than-ideal appliances until he or she gets older.

While the obesity epidemic is certainly a factor in children getting gum disease and losing teeth, parents also need to consider any lifestyle habits as well. While children and teens often pick up the eating habits of their parents, they may also pick up bad habits from parents and friends. One recent trend that teens are picking up is vaping. And these e-cigarettes are becoming much more popular than standard cigarettes among teens.

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There is a lot of misinformation out there, and some teens think that vaping is actually safer! While programs like D.A.R.E. have been used for years to stave off teen drug use, parents and dentists need to be sure that they are educating teens. Like obesity, Medline Plus says that e-cigarettes are terrible for gum health:

E-Cigarettes Not Good to Gums, Study Finds

“We showed that when the vapors from an e-cigarette are burned, it causes cells to release inflammatory proteins,” said study leader Irfan Rahman. These, in turn, “aggravate stress within cells, resulting in damage that could lead to various oral diseases,” explained Rahman, a professor of environmental medicine in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“How much and how often someone is smoking e-cigarettes will determine the extent of damage to the gums and oral cavity,” Rahman added in a university news release.
The researchers also found that the flavoring chemicals used in e-cigarettes play a role in damaging cells in the mouth . . . “We learned that the flavorings — some more than others — made the damage to the cells even worse,” said study co-author Fawad Javed. “It’s important to remember that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is known to contribute to gum disease,” added Javed, a postdoctoral resident at the university’s Institute for Oral Health. Read full article here . . .

While older teens may be better candidates for dental implants since their jaws have fully grown, they may still not be able to get them. Since vaping causes gums to become weak, they may not be able to support an implant should a child need to replace missing teeth. Thankfully, both obesity and the use of e-cigarettes are correctable and don’t have to be lifelong issues. If your child is overweight or your teen is getting into vaping, now’s the time to let their dentist give them a wake-up call about gum health!

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