The Mouth-Body Connection: 6 Ways Oral Hygiene Helps Keep You Well

Taking good care of your mouth -- teeth and gums -- does more than help ensure you have a bright, white smile.

A healthy mouth and healthy body go hand in hand. Good oral hygiene and oral health can improve your overall health, reducing the risk of serious disease and perhaps even preserving your memory in your golden years. The phrase "healthy mouth, healthy you" really is true -- and backed by growing scientific evidence.

It's never too early to start teaching your children to take care of their teeth and gums: Healthy habits learned in childhood can pay off in adulthood. And, if you're tempted to shrug off your good oral hygiene habits -- brushing, flossing, rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash, and seeing your dentist regularly -- remember that you're a role model for your kids. Keep in mind these six ways that healthy teeth and gums boost overall health.

Boosts Your Self-esteem and Confidence

Decayed teeth and gum disease are often associated not only with an unsightly mouth but very bad breath -- so bad it can affect your confidence, self-image, and self-esteem. With a healthy mouth that's free of gum disease and cavities, your quality of life is also bound to be better -- you can eat properly, sleep better, and concentrate with no aching teeth or mouth infections to distract you.

May Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Chronic inflammation from gum disease has been associated with the development of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blockages of blood vessels, and strokes.

Experts stop short of saying there is a cause-and-effect between gum disease and these other serious health problems, but the link has shown up in numerous studies. The findings of these studies may suggest that maintaining oral health can help protect overall health.

Preserves Your Memory

Adults with gingivitis (swollen, bleeding gums) performed worse on tests of memory and other cognitive skills than did those with healthier gums and mouths, according to a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Those with gingivitis were more likely to perform poorly on two tests: delayed verbal recall and subtraction -- both skills used in everyday life.

Using an antibacterial mouthwash or toothpaste can help reduce bacteria in the mouth that can cause gingivitis.

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Reduces Risks of Infection and Inflammation in Your Body

Poor oral health has been linked with the development of infection in other parts of the body.

Research has found an association between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints. Experts say the mechanism of the destruction of connective tissues in both gum disease and RA is similar. Eating a balanced diet, seeing your dentist regularly, and good oral hygiene helps reduce your risks of tooth decay and gum disease. Make sure you brush twice a day and floss and use an antiseptic mouthwash once a day.

Helps Keep Blood Sugar Stable if You Have Diabetes

People with uncontrolled diabetes often have gum disease. Having diabetes can make you less able to fight off infection, including gum infections that can lead to serious gum disease.

And some experts have found that if you have diabetes, you are more likely to develop more severe gum problems than someone without diabetes.

That, in turn, may make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels.

Reducing your risk of gingivitis by protecting your oral health may help with blood sugar control if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Helps Pregnant Women Carry a Baby to Term

Women may experience increased gingivitis during pregnancy. Some research suggests a relationship between gum disease and preterm, low-birthweight infants.

Not all studies have found a solid link, but maintaining good oral health is still the best goal. If you're pregnant, visit your dentist or periodontist as part of your prenatal care. Consider it good practice for the role modeling that lies ahead for all new parents.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on July 26, 2015

Sources

SOURCES: 

Sally Cram, DDS, periodontist, Washington, D.C., and consumer advisor, America Dental Association. 

National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition.  

American Academy of Periodontology.

American Academy of Periodontology: "Gum Disease and Diabetes."

American Dental Association: "Healthy mouth, healthy body."

Noble, J. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, May 5, 2009, online.

El-Solh, A. Chest, November 2004.

Smolik, I. Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, May 2009.

Offenbacher, S. Journal of Periodontology, October 1996.

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