Good oral hygiene can lead to a surprising number of health benefits

Many people fear going to the dentist. So many people skip going to the dentist. 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. Studies show that a healthy mouth is also a sign of a healthy body.

So, visiting the dentist could save your life.

October is Dental Hygiene Month. So it's a great time to remember the importance of regular dental visits.

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

But going to the dentist can lessen 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 that visiting your dentist and hygienist 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

When you don't brush your teeth or floss, bacteria accumulate between your teeth. Bacteria are small and harmful organisms. These bacteria can make their way into the blood stream. Walter Bretz is a New York University oral microbiologist. He says that certain bacteria in the mouth may clog up arteries. Arteries are important because they carry oxygen through your body. The bacteria form the plaque that builds on the walls of the arteries.

Periodontal disease is quite common among pregnant women. Periodontal disease is another name for gum disease. Expectant mothers' gums react differently to the bacteria in their mouths. This is because pregnant women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are chemicals.

Women may experience swelling, bleeding, or pain in their gum tissue. Several studies say gum disease can cause some birth risks. These risks include giving birth to a baby too soon. The risk can also be a baby that weighs too little.

Dr. Cohen-Brown says there should be more than twice-a-year visits to your dentist. She asks patients to brush after every meal. If that's impossible, she said, brush in the morning and at night before bed. You should also floss daily, and stay away from sugary foods. When your mouth's health improves, your body's health improves, Cohen-Brown told LiveScience.

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 the kind of 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 really well. When you bite into an apple, it stimulates the production of saliva in your mouth. As you chew, the extra saliva reduces tooth decay by lowering the levels of bacteria.

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 saliva. As a result, 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 bacteria, which is the leading cause of tooth decay. He discovered that cranberries made bacteria 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 options 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. There are also many liquid ways to 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 enzyme that helps plaque adhere 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.

Last updated January 16, 2014

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

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