The Treacherous Mouth, Continued

If any single body part is most responsible for obesity, surely it is the mouth. Could an ear or an elbow absorb even a single nutrient? Not likely. Could feeding through a nasogastric tube or an IV make someone morbidly obese? Maybe, but it would be quite a project. Whereas, mouths do it all the time.

The aperture of our face is all too ready to betray us, and Big Food knows it. “Make mouths happy,” they say, and “It’s like a mouth full of joy,” and, of course, the world’s most favorite advertising slogan, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

The previous post mentioned tastebuds, and as it turns out, other things are in the mouth too. This is Dr. Sarah J. Carnahan Craig, Ph.D., of Penn State University, who took part in a broad study that sought to understand “social/behavioral contributors to childhood obesity, how a responsive parenting intervention can prevent childhood overweight/obesity, and the biological factors that contribute to the disease.” She wrote,

The main finding from this paper is that the oral microbiota (the collection of bacteria that live in the mouth) are significantly related to young child growth patterns. The surprising part of this finding was that we observed this result with the oral microbiota and not the gut microbiota. The oral microbiota (in comparison to the gut microbiota, which has been associated with obesity in many previous studies) are largely understudied, especially in young children.

As Dr. Pretlow has noted, in food or eating addiction there are taste-centered components like flavor, mouth feel, aroma, texture, sliminess, inclusion of particles, temperature, and other traits belonging to the food itself.

Specific foods, like cheese, also are definitely a problem for the vast majority of obese individuals. Nevertheless, bliss point research still may be optimizing just the sensory effect — taste and texture (mouth feel) — rather than food ingredients that act directly on the brain.

The various agreeable sensations and the flavor molecules and all the other factors rarely work alone, but gang up to achieve the greatest possible impact. For instance, to the pleasures of eating, it would be fair to also add contrast. What could be more delightful than a half hour spent savoring the alternate sensations of salty, crunchy potato chips, with swallows of a chilled, fizzy drink? Or switching from cold ice cream to delicious, crumbly bites of cake, over and over again? Or playing off spicy, chewy mouthfuls of fried chicken against swigs of cold beer?

When the mouth likes something, it automatically summons up the tendency to develop other bad habits. So, there will also be the motor addiction factor, which involves physical actions including biting, chewing, sucking, gnawing, crunching, licking, swallowing, and hand-to-mouth motion. These are more involved in the category of “nervous eating.” But beyond that, these ways of acting slide over into the territory of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, which are recognized as behavioral addictions.

Dr. Pretlow says, “Any overeaten food represents a mixture of the sensory and behavioral addiction components, although the ratio varies. The combination comprises eating addiction.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mouth Microbiome Linked to Childhood Obesity,”, 09/19/18
Image by ToeneX/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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