Chronic inflammation caused by obesity may trigger the development of cells that break down bone tissue, including the bone that holds teeth in place, according to new University at Buffalo (UB) research that sought to improve understanding of the connection between obesity and gum disease.

The study, completed in an animal model and published in the Journal of Dental Research, found that excessive inflammation resulting from obesity raises the number of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), a group of immune cells that increase during illness to regulate immune function. MDSCs develop into a range of different cell types, including osteoclasts (a cell that breaks down bone tissue). Bone loss is a major symptom of periodontal (gum) disease and may ultimately lead to tooth loss.

Keith Kirkwood, professor of oral biology in the UB School of Dental Medicine says: “Although there is a clear relationship between the degree of obesity and periodontal disease, the mechanisms that underpin the links between these conditions were not completely understood”.

The study examined two groups of mice fed vastly different diets over the course of 16 weeks: one group with a low-fat diet that derived 10% of energy from fat; and, another group with a high-fat diet that drew 45% of energy from fat.

The investigation found that the high-fat diet group experienced obesity, more inflammation and a greater increase of MDSCs in the bone marrow and spleen compared to the low-fat diet group. The high-fat diet group also developed a significantly larger number of osteoclasts and lost more alveolar bone (the bone that holds teeth in place).