You probably know that brushing and flossing help keep your teeth clean and sparkly. But did you know that taking good care of your mouth can help you be healthy overall? Its true. Your mouth is the gateway to your body. A healthy mouth and teeth help you look good, enjoy delicious and nutritious foods, and speak clearly and confidently. However, an unhealthy one may signal disease, infection, damage to bones or nerves and potential tooth loss. In fact, many systemic diseases those that affect the whole body may first be noticed because of mouth sores or other oral problems. This is why good oral care is essential for good quality of life.

Understanding the connection

One common issue is gum disease, or periodontal disease, the ongoing inflammation of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. Evidence from a number of studies, including a 2012 report from the American Heart Association, suggests that gum disease is associated with heart disease, arterial blockages and stroke, in addition to sharing common risk factors such as smoking, age and diabetes. Advanced gum disease can destroy tissue and bone, leading to tooth loss.

Although gum disease may contribute to these health conditions, its important to understand that just because two conditions occur at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that one condition causes the other. For that reason, researchers continue to examine what happens when gum disease is treated in people with these various health problems. One of the best things you can do for your overall health is avoid smoking. Smoking isn’t only bad for your lungs, its hazardous for your teeth and gums because it increases your chances of gum disease and makes it harder to treat.

The American Diabetes Association reports that people with diabetes are more likely to develop and have more severe gum disease than those without diabetes. If you’re a diabetic, talk with your dentist about a dental plan.

Changing your habits

All these findings suggest that your daily oral health routine and professional dental care are about more than just taking care of your teeth. It’s about taking care of yourself. Many Americans today enjoy excellent oral health and are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lives, but every year around 100 million Americans fail to see a dentist. The reality is that regular dental exams and good oral hygiene can prevent most dental disease and the potential for other health problems associated with it. A healthy smile is a beautiful thing, and healthy habits can help you keep it that way. The American Diabetes Association reports that people with diabetes are more likely to develop and have more severe gum disease than those without diabetes. If you’re a diabetic, talk with your dentist about a dental plan.

Steve Harrel, DDS, is a periodontist who practices in Dallas, Texas. He is currently the chair of the American Dental Associations Council on Scientific Affairs.