February 8, 2002
Obesity Overtaking Smoking as
Greatest Threat to Oral, General Health
- A In the 1990s it was cigarette smoking but today, obesity may soon
surpass smoking as the single greatest threat to oral health, warned the
American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA).
"Snacking on food with a high sugar content is a major reason 60 percent of
Americans are overweight or obese," according to ADHA President Ann Naber,
RDH. "As a result, they pay a much higher price to maintain their oral and
For instance, poor oral hygiene habits and eating too much junk food are the
biggest factors in promoting dental cavities -- the single most chronic
childhood condition, Naber said.
Dental cavities affect five times more children than asthma and seven times
more children than hayfever, according to the Surgeon General's report on
And when people eat a high-sugar diet, Naber explained that cavity-causing
microorganisms called Streptococcus Mutans (S. Mutans) are able to produce
more of the lactic acids responsible for destroying tooth enamel.
But the two easiest ways of preventing cavities is to eat a healthy diet and
to maintain good oral hygiene habits, Naber said.
For example, choosing fruits and vegetables over sweetened snacks means
there is less sugar for the harmful organisms to metabolize, she said.
Naber also suggested brushing and flossing immediately following meals
because it helps stop S. Mutans from converting sugar into acids.
Naber pointed to U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher's recent warning that
155 million Americans are either overweight or obese, while 192 million
Americans suffer from poor oral health, as further evidence of the
connection between poor diet and chronic oral infection.
"However with a balanced diet, good nutrition and regular oral hygiene care,
Americans can dramatically improve their oral and total health," Naber said.