Growing up, our parents taught us to brush and floss our teeth thoroughly. While they were focused on clean teeth and gums, they were also helping us to improve other aspects of our health.

Did you know that your oral health offers clues about your overall health,  or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body?  We know that good oral hygiene can help prevent cavities, bad breath, and gum disease, but it goes much further than that. Like other areas of the body, our mouth contains bacteria which is mostly harmless. Our mouth is the entry point to our digestive and respiratory tracts, and without proper oral hygiene, some of these bacteria can increase the risk of medical conditions such as heart and respiratory disease, eating disorders, arthritis, and even certain cancers.

Also, some medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, pain meds, diuretics, and antidepressants, can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, reducing the risk of inflammation and disease.  We know we need to floss and brush at least twice a day, but how often do you replace your toothbrush? We’ve got a list of ways to protect your mouth and gums, along with five surprising benefits of good oral hygiene.

How can you protect your oral health?

To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene daily.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily.
  • Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if the bristles are splayed or worn.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Getty Images/iStockphoto/dina2001/Thinkstock
    Getty Images/iStockphoto/dina2001/Thinkstock


    When you don’t brush and floss your teeth, you’re allowing gum disease to form that can cause your gums to bleed. This results in oral bacteria entering your bloodstream and spreading throughout your body. And this can increase chronic inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blood vessels, and strokes.

    Fortunately, you can lower this risk by simply maintaining good oral health. But if you have early signs of gum disease such as bleeding and swollen gums, then see your dentist for treatment and advice.

  • Getty Images/iStockphoto/AntonioGuillem
    Getty Images/iStockphoto/AntonioGuillem


    A 2010 study showed that people with gingivitis performed worse on a memory and cognitive skills test than those who had healthier mouths. Once again, this is because oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream and nerve channels that lead to your brain. This kills your brain cells and results in memory loss and the formation of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Consider using antibacterial toothpaste or mouthwash to reduce the bacteria in your mouth that causes gingivitis.

  • Getty Images/iStockphoto/thanatip
    Getty Images/iStockphoto/thanatip


    If you’re a woman who is struggling with fertility, then you should check your teeth. Studies show poor dental hygiene may affect your ability to conceive a baby. This is because gum disease can affect your progesterone and estrogen hormones and reproductive organs. A 2011 study found that women with gum disease took two months longer to become pregnant than those without it.

    Once you conceive, continue to take care of your teeth to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Other studies show that gum disease can also lead to early deliveries and low birth weight infants. So, visit your dentist or periodontist as a part of your prenatal care.

  • Getty Images/iStockphoto/dina2001
    Getty Images/iStockphoto/dina2001


    Having poor oral health can lead to type 2 diabetes, or it can worsen it if you already have diabetes. Research has found that people with gum disease are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with healthy gums. Once again, oral bacteria raise the inflammation throughout your body, which can lead to an increase in insulin resistance.

    Even worse, there is a two-way relationship between diabetes and gum disease. Diabetes can also lead to more severe gum problems such as tissue damage and eventual tooth loss. So, continue to brush, floss, and rinse your mouth, while also keeping your blood sugar levels low.

  • Getty Images/iStockphoto/wutwhanfoto
    Getty Images/iStockphoto/wutwhanfoto


    Having gum disease can also lead to certain types of cancer, such as oral or pancreatic cancer. Researchers believe that oral bacteria in your bloodstream might boost the growth of cancer cells.

    Once again, by simply cleaning your teeth, you will lower the oral bacteria than can get into your bloodstream. Your dentist will also check for signs of cancer during your regular check-up. These symptoms may include difficulty in chewing, swallowing, or speaking, or any pain or numbness in your mouth. So, if you experience any of these signs, then visit your dentist immediately.

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