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

While the body has systems in place to prevent damage from free radicals, the systems aren't always 100% efficient. The good news is that naturally occurring chemicals, antioxidants, are found in the below "super-foods," and can help prevent free radical damage. A diet rich in the following foods gives you strong doses of antioxidants, helping to create a healthy body and mind, and prevent chronic diseases.

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

Enjoy slices on a tossed salad, or mix chopped avocado into a favorite salsa. Not only do they add rich, creamy flavor, but they also help your body absorb nutrients from other vegetables. These nutrients are known as phytonutrients and include carotenoids - a good source of beta carotene, according to the American Journal of Nutrition.

Blueberries Also packed with antioxidants, blueberries knock out free radicals that damage the eyes and vascular system. 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 reduces the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and diabetes. Other vegetables in this family - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, watercress, and mustard and turnip greens - also contain powerful antioxidants. Broccoli sprouts - similar to alfalfa sprouts - are a great source of sulforaphane.

Lentils Lentils are the quickest and easiest to prepare of all beans. A very good source of soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol, lentils are of special benefit in managing blood sugar levels, diabetes, and hypoglycemia. Their high fiber content prevents bloods sugar levels from rising rapidly 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' stamina. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein is complete, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids.

Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, which means it can be valuable for relieving migraine headaches. Quinoa is also a good source of Vitamin B-2, which can help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks 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 aid 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 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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