You may have considered what it would cost to have a healthy smile, but what does an unhealthy smile cost you? When you consider the effects of an unhealthy smile, perhaps you think of crooked or discolored teeth, bad breath, or even tooth loss. But a lack of oral hygiene can lead to health problems beyond those in your mouth. Your body is made of interconnected systems, and the mouth serves as the primary gateway for what enters the body. That means that an unhealthy mouth can result in health problems elsewhere in your body. Similarly, the mouth can serve as a diagnostic tool for other health issues that seem to have little to do with your smile. How Your Oral Health Affects Your Body Did you know your mouth is full of bacteria? Don’t worry — for the most part, this is actually a good thing! A healthy mouth needs to have enough good bacteria to fight off disease-carrying microorganisms that may enter the mouth when you breathe, drink, or eat. Unfortunately, not all bacteria in your mouth are quite so beneficial. Plaque forms naturally on your teeth when you consume sugar or carbohydrates. If not brushed or flossed away regularly, certain bacteria will feed on plaque, producing acid that damages your teeth and can lead to tooth decay over time. These are bacteria that lead to oral health issues you probably already know about — gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, etc. But weak teeth, inflammation, and bleeding gums can create opportunities for other harmful bacteria to enter your bloodstream. This can lead to health issues elsewhere in your body. More studies are needed to determine if your oral health causes other health issues, or if your oral health is just linked to your overall health in some way. Regardless of whether it comes down to causation or correlation, what matters is that there’s definitely a connection. Other Health Issues Linked to Your Oral Health Your oral health can be linked to multiple other health issues, including: \tHeart disease: Some research suggests that bacteria can enter through the mouth and make their way directly to the heart, leading to cardiovascular problems. \tStroke: Bacteria can cause inflammation in your arteries, leading to a stroke. \tLung disease: Your mouth is connected to your respiratory system, making it easy for bacteria to enter the lungs and worsen health conditions like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). \tRheumatoid arthritis: Some evidence suggests that bacteria can increase the pain caused by this inflammatory disease. How Other Health Issues Affect Your Smile We’ve taken a look at how your oral health can affect your overall health. But did you know that the opposite is also true? Certain health conditions can make it more difficult for patients to maintain a healthy smile: \tDiabetes: Studies have shown that people with diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease and are more likely to have more severe forms of the disease, such as periodontitis. \tPregnancy: The rush of hormones that accompanies pregnancy can exaggerate existing oral health problems. Good Oral Hygiene Saves Time and Money The link between your oral health and your overall health is clear. So how do you protect both? Luckily, there are three simple steps you can take to promote a healthy smile: \tBrush your teeth: The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day. That should eliminate most of the plaque that builds up on your teeth over the course of the day and during the night. \tFloss daily: Brushing your teeth gets rid of most, but not all, of your plaque. Unfortunately, your teeth can have some hard-to-reach spots in which plaque can fester and turn into tartar, which is much harder to remove. Flossing lets you reach those difficult spots to get rid of more plaque. \tSchedule a teeth cleaning every six months: Only a professional teeth cleaning can completely remove tartar from your teeth. That’s why we recommend getting a teeth cleaning every six months. A regular teeth cleaning is also a great opportunity for our dentists to examine your teeth for signs of other oral health issues. That way, we can prevent problems or deal with them while they’re still minor. Additionally, we can also look for those signs in your mouth of health issues occurring in other parts of your body. Invest in a Healthier Smile Our Hudsonville, MI, preventative dentists can help you maintain a healthy smile and promote good oral health and overall health. To schedule an appointment, call Hudsonville Dental today at (616) 209-4024, or contact us online.