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Healthy Smile, Healthy Body

How Your Teeth Affect Your Health

You probably don't think about your teeth that much unless you drink something icy cold or that little postcard reminding you to schedule your next dental appointment shows up in the mail. However, you should really give your pearly whites more attention. After all, your teeth are one of the first things people see when you smile and greet them, and your oral health can have a major impact on the health of not just your mouth, but your entire body. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, including diabetes and respiratory diseases, and untreated cavities are not only be painful, but they can also lead to serious infections.

While you may have been notoriously hard on their teeth as a kid and teenager (forgetting to brush and floss sometimes), most adults have it in their routine to brush at least twice a day. But what about flossing? Only 28% report doing it daily, even though most of us know better. And while you may also know better, Americans are also overconsuming junk food and sugar, which, when combined with a lack of flossing, is a recipe for oral health problems.  The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that 75 percent of Americans have some form of gum disease or gingivitis. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay affects one out of three adults.

So how do your teeth have such an impact on your well-being, and how do you stay healthy by focusing on your mouth? Here's a guide to what you need to know about your oral health, and how to keep your mouth and teeth clean and beautiful!

Gum Disease
So just what is gum disease? Also called periodontal disease, it's an inflammation of the gums. Gum disease occurs when plaque, a sticky colorless film of bacteria, builds up on your teeth and hardens into a tartar that can cause infections in the gums. If it's not treated, gum disease can increase your risk of respiratory disease, as the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung problems. Gum disease can also spread and affect the bones underneath the teeth, which eventually dissolve and no longer support the teeth in its place. (That's basically just a complicated way of saying that your teeth can fall out!) Research also shows a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than non-diabetics are, so if you have diabetes or it runs in your family, you definitely want to take care of your teeth. (More on prevention later!) The moral of the story? Gum disease is bad news.

The symptoms of gum disease can vary from one person to the next, but one telltale sign is usually swollen, tender and red gums. If your gums bleed when brushing or flossing, that can be a warning sign, as can receding gums, bad breath that won't go away, loose teeth or a change in your jaw alignment. If you're having any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your dentist. A dentist or a periodontist can tell you if you have gum disease or gingivitis (a type of gum disease) with an exam and usually an x-ray. Treatment usually involves plaque removal, medication and, in the worst cases, surgery.

You probably already know a little about cavities, and chances are, you may have even had one or two. Cavities are a sign of tooth decay, which is a breakdown of a tooth's structure. The decay can affect the enamel of the tooth and the inside of the tooth, and is caused when sugary and starchy foods like soda, breads, baked goods and candy are left on the teeth. Your dentist will be able to tell if you have a cavity during your regular exam, but in the advanced stages of a cavity, you may get a toothache, especially after having sweet, hot, or cold food or drinks. You may also be able to see pits or holes in your teeth. A cavity is treated by a dentist. He or she can remove the decayed portion and replacing it with a filling. If the tooth decay is advanced and the tooth structure is affected, your dentist may have to put in a crown. Another good reason to avoid sugary foods, right?

Teeth Spacing
You may think that the spacing of your teeth is just a cosmetic issue, but it affects the health of your mouth, too. Teeth that are spaced too tightly together can create gum problems, just as teeth that are spaced improperly can allow food to get stuck between the teeth, therefore increasing the risk of gum disease. An orthodontist can help straighten out your teeth (yep, even as an adult) with braces, invisible retainers, or other treatments for optimal oral health.

Other Issues
If that wasn't enough, poor oral health has also been shown to cause sleeping issues, hurt your self-esteem, and diminish your ability to chew and digest food properly. And if you smoke (hopefully you don't!), it can be horrible on your teeth. Tobacco smoke and chewing tobacco are both very harmful to your gums, and toxins within these drugs can cause oral cancer, damage the bones around your teeth and result in tooth loss.

Tips to Keep Mouths Happy
Now that you know how important your mouth is to your overall health, how do you keep it healthy? Here are some tips for a clean mouth!
  • Mom was right! Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. This keeps plaque at bay, improves breath and prevents stains. Plus, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who brushed twice a day were 30% less likely to develop heart disease compared to people who only brushed once. That's because, according to health experts, gum disease can lead to inflammation and can damage your arteries.
  • Don't eat junk food, and stay away from sweets. Eat those vegetables!
  • Make sure your toothpaste and mouth rinse include fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay.
  • If you wear braces, be sure to keep the space between your teeth and archwires clean by using floss threaders and orthodontic toothbrushes.
  • If you play contact sports, consider having a custom-made mouth guard fitted to protect those pearly whites.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year to make sure everything is in tip-top shape!
Having healthy teeth isn't just about looking great (although that's a nice perk!). Good oral health is really about your body's overall wellness. So brush right, brush often and take care of those teeth!

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Member Comments

  • It's very true . . . . for humans . . . and our canine friends as well . . .
    I love my Hydro-floss. My dentist tells me my teeth are the cleanest in town. He also told me that brushing more than twice a day is not a good idea.
  • good information - thank you!
  • As someone who has heard of someone with oral cancer I was surprise that there was no mention of the hazards of tobacco - especially snuff as you can get oral and or throat cancer from years of dipping- I know this was about dental hygiene, but isn't tobacco a filthy habit?
  • As a dental assistant, I can totally agree with what this article has to say. I believe the teeth are connected to everything!
  • I sure do love to see good teeth in the mirror and on others. I did know most of the health implications of bad teeth, but was supprize to find out it can interfer with your sleep. You learn something every day! Thank you good job.
  • I'm smiling when I read this!
    Good reminders of how to care for our oral hygiene!
  • MAGGY01
    I agree with eveyone. The dentists are really reaping the rewards not us with dental insurance.
  • I appreciate having a dentist but,it really angers me to have to pay so much!we are at the dentists mercy even when having insurance,I pay so MUCH!My daughter had 4 wisdom teeth out and it costed me out of pocket $1300
  • We have dental insurance every other year or so. I swear by flossing, Mentadent toothpaste, and Listerine. I do this every day and have had no cavities since I started 10 years ago. My husband and daughter(when she lived at home) don't and have had cavities each time they go to the Dentist.
  • I do not agree with the comment about using toothpaste that has floride in it. Floride is a petroleum by-product and is toxic when taken internally. I use a toothpaste that doesn't have floride in it. I avoid drinking water that has floride in it. I just had a great checkup with my dentist too.
    I'm one of those people who have never had a cavity! BUT, I have been battling gum disease since 1990. I see a dentist or peridontist every 4 months, and I have had bone implants 3 times. This is serious stuff!! My long-time dentist did not diagnose the problem and only after his death when I found a new dentist did my problem come to light. Yet another reason for second opinions!
  • IVY_13
    Fluoride actually hurts my teeth. They have been much better since I've stopped using it. Other than that, what a revolutionary article, full of things I already knew.
  • to learn incredible things about teeth, check out david wolfe and adya clarity. mercury fillings and the gases they expel(especially to females near a dental office) and long term mercury exposure as well. learn about flossing yes. and never ingest fluoride, merely brush with it. plaque is actually calcification (there are good calcium and bad calcium) and there are better ways to remove it than scraping. your nutritional ingestion by far is the biggest most important aspect of your health. and know that the blood vessels and capilaries that actually reach your teeth are so small, to have healthy strong teeth you need to eat lots of minerals and leafy greens. try to stay away from sugar at all costs.
    and as for traditional toothpaste...why! just brush with water and rinse good, or use baking soda with lemon juice or strawberries(citr
    ic acid) like once every week or two weeks. most folks have no clue what healthy is anymore and there is so much to learn. the solutions are always so profound yet so simple.
    I was very interested in your article about the relationship between good oral health and overall health. As a dental hygienist, I know that our profession is primarily the identifiers and "treaters" of periodontal disease, and the early stages of this disease, gingivitis. We also love to educate people about their need for removing plaque on all tooth surfaces every 24 hours. (Flossing is simply the way to make that happen!)

    As well as a two way co-relation between gum disease and diabetes, bacteria in ones mouth may affect the heart, can be breathed in to the lungs to increase chances of pneumonia especially in the elderly, and may lead to underweight and premature babies in preganant women. Talk to your dental hygienist in her own practice, or as part of a team of caring dental professionals in a dentist's office, to answer questions and assess your risk of this very common disease. By removing the build-up of plaque and calculus (tartar) on ones teeth by scaling, inflammation will disappear. Then by learning specific, proper techniques for cleaning your teeth and soft tissues of the mouth you will be able to maintain good oral health and overall health.

    Muriel Laughton
    Registered Dental Hygienist
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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