Benefits of fitness on overall health

“A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body a prison.” – Francis Bacon

Like many of you, I feel we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  It’s relatively easy to enjoy the outdoors and be active year-round on the Central Coast.  I have also been lucky enough to work with an active group of people and have many active patients that inspire me to compete and push myself athletically.  

In 2011 our office staff finished second overall in the Big Sur International Marathon relay and in 2012 we finished fourth out of more than 20 teams.  Locally, we have run the Heritage Oaks Fun Run every year we have been in practice.  Many of us also enjoy hiking and the beautiful nature trails our area has to offer.  

Having an active support group around you for encouragement can make living a fit lifestyle a real joy and with that lifestyle comes other benefits that are often overlooked.

Studies in dental and medical literature have shed an interesting light on the complex reciprocal relationship of your overall systemic health and fitness and that of your oral health.  In my experience, much of the public views their oral health very separate from their overall health.  Facts from recent studies show that they actually influence each other very intimately and what benefits one has a profound benefit on the other.


Obesity is an epidemic in our country.  According to the Centers for Disease Control 35.7 percent of all adults are obese.  We do only slightly better in California at 25 percent, but that is still far from a stellar number. Interesting research from the renowned Forsyth Institute in Boston showed that overweight women with an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 27 to 32 could be overwhelmingly identified by the presence of a specific oral bacterium known as Selenomonas noxia whereas the 232 healthy subjects had very low concentrations of this bacterium. Continued research is being done to help identify whether bacterial populations change in a person’s saliva as a result of obesity or if the bacterial population in the mouth can participate in the pathology that leads to obesity. 

Other studies from Case Western Reserve University indicated that advanced bone loss around tested subjects’ teeth (periodontal disease) was directly associated with abdominal obesity.

Additional studies have shown a correlation between poor oral health and obesity. Researchers continue to investigate how and why these two are linked so closely and how improving health in one area may benefit the other.


Studies from the University of Louisville and Harvard University have clearly shown that tooth loss affects dietary quality and nutrient intake in a manner than can increase the risk for several systemic diseases. This effect seems to be even greater in the elderly and cannot be completely remedied with dentures as the type of nutrition changes when a prosthesis is used for chewing.

Fiber intake and protein intake percentages are much lower in the diet of people with missing teeth or infected teeth.  This deficiency in intake also has a direct effect on overall health.


More than 25 million Americans suffer from diabetes and a clear relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes has been established. A large body of scientific literature supports clinical and epidemiological evidence that individuals with diabetes (both Type I and Type II) show a much higher incidence of severe or rapidly-progressing forms of periodontal disease than non-diabetics.

Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease of the gums and bone surrounding your teeth; it is the most common chronic inflammatory disease in the body.

Recent studies have shown that successful periodontal treatment in individuals actually improved glycemic status (blood sugar levels) especially in patients with Type II diabetes. In another study, effective treatment of periodontal infection and reduction of periodontal inflammation were associated with lower levels of glycosylated hemoglobin. From these studies we are learning that chronic untreated periodontal disease may have an effect in helping to induce diabetes. 

Chronic oral inflammation and systemic disease 

Chronic inflammatory diseases such as periodontal disease and abscesses of the teeth (odontogenic infections) have been shown to initiate changes in systemic physiology and biochemistry that alter immune function, serum cytokine/lipid levels, and tissue homeostasis. 

So what does this mean? It means that infections in a person’s mouth have been linked to the development and worsening of overall health. Other conditions that have an established link to chronic oral inflammation are atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases and respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, chronic, low- grade inflammatory diseases are asymptomatic and are oftentimes go unnoticed by patients for years if they are not being monitored on a regular basis.

Understanding the link between your overall health and your oral health is critical to getting the most out of your body for the long haul.  So whether you’re out there trying to lose a few pounds, set a personal best, win your league, or just having fun, you are affecting your overall health – certainly your oral health is being affected.  Who knows…maybe you CAN floss your way to a six pack.

Jeremy Lansford DMD, FAGD - is a practicing general dentist in Paso Robles with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Karanian.