Keeping your mouth healthy can lead to even more health benefits

Many people are afraid of going to the dentist. So they skip it. But recent studies show that going to the dentist is becoming more important. That's because clean teeth and healthy gums mean more than a nice smile. A healthy mouth is also a sign of a healthy body.

Most people know the basics of a healthy mouth. Brush your teeth regularly. Floss daily. See your dentist every six months. If you do all of these, you'll cut down on tartar, plaque, cavities, gum disease and bone loss. All are signs of an unhealthy mouth.

Seeing your dentist can lower your chances of getting some other major diseases. LiveScience.com reports recent studies showed links between gum disease and diabetes. There were also connections between gum disease and low birth weight babies, and heart disease. A new study suggests that treating gum disease might even help prevent heart attacks.

Gwen Cohen-Brown is a dentist at the New York State Department of Health. She says visiting your dentist may reduce the risk of heart disease. Regular dental visits can also prevent stroke and possibly heart attack. And dentists can help diabetics keep their teeth.

The connection between your heart and your teeth

To help keep your heart and body healthy, be sure your diet includes those foods that naturally contain strong doses of antioxidants. They help prevent disease by knocking out free radicals that damage the eyes and blood vessels.

Avocados

Avocados are a powerhouse of nutrition. This fat-rich fruit contains a good type of fat, oleic acid, which may help lower bad cholesterol, known as LDL, in the blood. They're rich in potassium, for blood pressure control, and folic acid, which is important for women of child-bearing age.

Blueberries

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants. This fruit can help prevent cataracts, varicose veins, heart disease and cancer. The Archives of Ophthalmology suggests that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day — including dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries — may lower the risk of age-related vision loss in older adults.

Green tea

One of the world's most widely consumed beverages, green tea, provide antioxidants known as polyphenols and catechin — which are believed to reduce inflammation. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, green tea might also speed up metabolism and may help prevent certain cancers. Research shows the health benefits are greatest when you drink at least 3 cups of green tea a day.

Kale

Kale contains an antioxidant known as sulforaphane that fights high blood pressure and lowers the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes. Other vegetables that are like kale and have powerful antioxidants are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, watercress, and mustard and turnip greens. Broccoli sprouts — similar to alfalfa sprouts — are a great source of sulforaphane.

Lentils

Lentils have lots of soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol. They can also help manage blood sugar levels, diabetes and low blood sugar. Their high fiber content prevents bloods sugar levels from rising quickly after a meal, Research also shows that eating foods high in soluble fiber, like lentils, can help prevent heart disease.

Quinoa

Quinoa (keen-wa), an ancient "grain" from South America, was once called "the gold of the Incas" because it increased their warriors' energy. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein is complete, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids.

Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, which can be valuable for easing migraine headaches. Quinoa is also a good source of Vitamin B-2, which can help reduce how often migraines happen by improving energy use in brain and muscle cells.

Walnuts

This delicious nut is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, a special type of fat the body can't make on its own. A quarter cup of walnuts gives you 91% of your recommended daily amount of this "good" fat. Walnuts have possible health benefits ranging from heart protection to better brain function. Also, they can prevent inflammation, which may help with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that "eating 1.5 ounces per day of walnuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Red wine

When you reach for a cocktail, a glass of red wine may be the best choice. According to recent research, an antioxidant in red wine might help control inflammation in the body. To help protect against heart disease, this antioxidant boosts the body's ability to dissolve blood clots. Another antioxidant, in the grapes' skins, can help your body defend itself against stroke and heart attack.

Remember, adding in a few of these nutrient-packed foods in your everyday meals can have a big impact - helping you feel and look great every day.

Beyond brushing – other ways to promote good mouth health

What you eat and drink can also help keep your teeth and gums healthy. You probably already know things that are bad for your teeth. Too many soft drinks, sweets and cakes hurt teeth over time. But fighting tooth decay is about more than avoiding the bad foods and drinks. It's also about adding healthy foods, vitamins and minerals to your diet.

There are lots of fruits and vegetables that help teeth and gums. Best Health magazine reports that apples help clean your mouth. When you bite into an apple, it increases the amount of spit in your mouth. As you chew, the extra spit lowers tooth decay by lowering the levels of germs.

United Press International reports that carrots and cucumbers also help protect teeth. In fact, many crunchy, crispy fresh fruits and vegetables can help your teeth. These foods help your gums and increase the production of spit. By doing this, they get rid of harmful sugars and food pieces in your mouth.

WebMD.com reports that cranberries may also help stop tooth decay. Dr. Hyun Koo is a dentist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Dr. Koo tested cranberries against germs, the leading cause of tooth decay. He discovered that cranberries made germs weaker and could provide greater protection for your teeth.

Calcium is great for preventing tooth decay for growing children. Dairy is the perfect source for your calcium-loving teeth. You and your teeth will like the benefits of milk, yogurt, and cheese. And here's some great news, too. You can get all the calcium you need even in low-fat dairy options.

But calcium is found in more than just dairy products. Other calcium-rich choices include leafy greens such as broccoli and bok choy. Calcium is also packed into almonds, Brazil nuts and dried beans.

Drink to your tooth health.

Eating isn't the only natural way to protect your teeth. Drinking certain drinks can help improve dental health. Drinking green or black tea delivers naturally occurring fluoride to the mouth. Fluoride is a chemical that can help protect teeth. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers made a surprising find. Black tea can stop the growth of an substance that helps plaque stick to teeth. When you reduce the amount of plaque, you increase the health of your teeth.

You should also drink tap water with fluoride in it. It's an easy way to add a powerful cavity fighter to your diet. Also, many bottled waters contain at least a little bit of fluoride.

The better your snacks are, the better your teeth are.

Some of the worst foods for tooth decay are sticky, sugary snacks. Unfortunately, those snacks are usually what we eat between meals. Try to stay away from sweets, because sugar partners with plaque to weaken enamel. Once the enamel is weakened, it's easier for you to get tooth decay.

When you want a snack, try cheese, raw vegetables, fruit, or plain yogurt.

You will have more benefit from eating raw vegetables as much as you can. They also massage the gum tissue, which makes the gums healthier.

This material is intended for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor.

Tips to prepare for the doctor's appointment to make it a success

Make the most out of an M.D. visit

Make your next doctor’s appointment a success.

Read Have A Healthier Doctor’s Appointment
Tips to choose a doctor while switching from a pediatrician when kids grow older

Choosing a doctor as your kids get older

What’s the right age for your child to outgrow the pediatrician? It depends.

Read about switching doctors
Get your heart rate up without hurting

Lessons you can learn from a big loser

Weight-loss reality show star Antoine Dove shares secrets to slim down success. A TV stint and many sweat-sessions helped him lose 150 lbs.

Read healthy weight loss tips