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Obesity and Oral Health

Many studies have attempted to establish a correlation between obesity and caries prevalence, with a focus on the consumption of SSBs or sugar-containing beverages (SCBs) by adolescents and adults. The latter include SSBs and other beverages, such as 100% fruit juice (which contains naturally occurring glucose and fructose). Findings specific to childhood obesity include a positive association between SCBs and the accumulation of fat in the lower torso around the abdominal area (central adiposity) and a direct association between caries and obesity.

Other studies have noted an increased risk of caries in obese children, but do not identify a causative relationship between the two, suggesting common risk factors are most likely the reason for their coexistence. In general, consumption of SSBs/SCBs and other foods high in sugar is a risk factor for obesity, as well as caries.

Oral Health Professionals’ Role

  • Providing nutritional education for parents/caregivers and children
  • Reducing sources of added sugars to aid in reducing caries risk and weight gain
  • Following guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on juice consumption, which suggest the following limits:

— Ages 1 to 3: 4 ounces daily

— Ages 4 to 6 years: 4 to 6 ounces daily

— Ages 7 to 18: 8 ounces or 1 cup daily

  • Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Choosing whole grains
  • Focusing on lean protein and low-fat milk
  • Being active for at least 60 minutes per day
  • Providing referrals to a primary care provider and/or registered dietitian when appropriate (e.g., if BMI screening indicates the child is overweight/obese, or the oral health professional believes there are concerns beyond their scope of practice)

Approaches to making healthy diet choices are available at choosemyplate.gov. Resources are available in English and Spanish and include games, activity sheets, videos, and resources for parents/​caregivers. In dental offices, the videos could be played during the child’s appointment. Resources could be posted to websites hosted by the practice or printed and provided to children. Other resources for parents/​caregivers include recipes, cookbooks, snack tips, and recommendations to cut back on sweets, make better beverage choices, and more. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org/​for-kids) also offers free resources designed to support a healthy weight.

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