Obesity and Dental Health

Is Your Dentist Nearby? Believe It or Not, It May Impact Your Weight

by Wellness Editor – MH

There are many factors that have been found to influence a region’s obesity rate. Some possible contributors to this growing problem are income, genetics and psychological problems. Strangely enough, a team from an Ivy League university has unearthed another possible factor behind your obesity risk – the location of your dentist.

A Surprising Find

To be specific, this particular study was conducted by the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH). The researchers drew their conclusions based on data supplied by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In the United States, this organization is the largest philanthropic group devoted completely to public health.

Using this source, the research team found a surprising connection between a number of dentists in a certain area and obesity rates. Essentially, a county’s adult obesity rate declined by 1 percent for each dentist added per 10,000 people. The study’s lead author, Jessica Holzer, called this apparent connection “striking,” further stating that “there could potentially be a role that dentists could play in targeting or limiting obesity.”

This report marked the first time a medical study analyzed how a county’s number of dentists affected obesity rates. To determine if such a relationship actually exists, the Yale team considered other factors that can influence obesity’s prevalence in a given county. These factors included income levels, educational attainment and the prevalence of recreational facilities and fast-food establishments. The researchers also accounted for certain geographic patterns regarding obesity rates; counties in close proximity to each other tend to have similar rates of obesity, as do counties located within one singular state.

How Dental Care and Weight May be Connected

Despite considering these numerous obesity-related factors, the Yale team still found a correlation between higher concentrations of dentists’ offices and thinner waistlines. Additionally, the presence of primary care physicians had an even greater impact on obesity on a countywide scale. For every such doctor added per 10,000 people, a county’s rate of obesity eroded by 1.7 percent.

So what could explain this strange and unexpected discovery? As of now, the authors do not have a conclusive answer to this question, though they did offer up a few possible explanations. For example, it could be that more health-conscious people are more apt to faithfully visit their dentist. Such individuals, the theory goes, are more likely to limit their consumption of sugar, a substance notorious for adding pounds to the body when eaten in excess. On the other hand, it could be dental care professionals themselves that deserve credit for this trend. According to this line of thinking, patients may decide to eat healthier on the advice of their dentist.

Though the study does indicate a possible relationship between dentists and obesity rates, it does not establish a definitive link. Nonetheless, the study’s authors contend additional research regarding this topic could yield very useful information. The September 1st, 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association features this research.

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