The Surprising Health Benefits of Brushing our Teeth
From an early age, we were taught to brush our teeth before breakfast and bed, using circular motions and not forgetting the teeth in the back. The twice daily ritual would help give us a beautiful, confident smile and importantly to our young minds, avoid the drill of the dentist.
Over time, we would learn how good dental hygiene reduces our risk of tooth decay and cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth loss — conditions that can influence the way we eat, speak and socialize.
Yet even as adults, we may not realize how important oral health is to our overall health and our quality of life. Research shows some surprising health benefits of taking good care of our teeth and gums, even helping us to become smarter, lose weight, conceive a baby, save our lungs and live longer!
Here are just a few of the ways a healthy mouth is an essential part of a healthy mind and body:
Stroke - The American Journal of Medicine reports that regular brushing decreases the chance of stroke.
Respiratory disease - Increased brushing lowers the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), found a study published in the Journal of Periodontology. The common theory is that harmful bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lower respiratory tract, causing and/or exacerbating an infection.
Weight - Prevention magazine reports that regular brushing can help you maintain a healthy weight! That’s because brushing your teeth sends a signal to your brain that you’re done eating, fending off the urge to nibble on a snack or dessert. It has been suggested that brushing your teeth for two minutes, three times a day, can burn as much as 3,500 calories per year!
Heart attack - The American Journal of Medicine makes the connection between dental health and risk of heart attack.
Cognitive function - Studies show patients with gum disease could have lower cognitive function. In one study, participants age 70 and older with gum inflammation were nine times more likely to test on the lower end of cognitive testing than those with healthy gums and no oral health issues.
Dementia - Regular brushing can lower your risk of dementia, by as much as 65% according to a study published The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Conception - If you’re a couple that is interested in conceiving, you might want to check with your dentist. A 2011 study found that women suffering from gum disease took seven months to conceive, while those who brushed and flossed regularly became pregnant after only five.
Healthy babies - Dental research has also shown that having healthy teeth and gums increases the chances of having healthy babies. Many pregnant women are prone to “pregnancy gingivitis,” a mild form of gum disease, making it even more important to brush and floss regularly.
So now that you know that oral health contributes to your physical, mental and social wellbeing, what healthy habits should you practice?
We turned to the Canadian Dental Health Association for their expert advice. Here are the CDHA’s 5 Steps to Oral Health:
1. Visit your dentist regularly
Depending on individual circumstances, regular checkups may be every three, six or nine months. An assessment and cleaning can help identify and manage problems before they become serious.
2. Brush twice daily
Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss once or more. Flossing helps to remove food and plaque lodged between the teeth and gums, reduces bad breath, and helps prevent gum disease.
3. Eat healthy
Sugar is a major cause of dental problems, allowing harmful bacteria to multiply and form plaque. It's advised to brush your teeth after consuming sugary drinks and food or better still, make water your drink of choice. Dental-friendly foods include fruits and vegetables, which are high in calcium, such as dark leafy greens, and will help to lower the acid buildup in the saliva that can lead to breakdown of tooth enamel.
4. Watch for disease
Gum disease (periodontal disease) is the most common cause of tooth loss. Warning signs include bad breath, sensitive gums, which are red, sore, shiny or swollen, and gums which bleed after brushing or flossing.
Also check for warning signs of oral cancer, which normally appear on the sides or floor of the mouth, and on the lower side of the tongue.
Oral cancer warning signs include:
- small lumps or thickened areas in the mouth
- red or white patches in the mouth
- a feeling of tingling or numbness in the mouth
- bleeding in the mouth with no obvious cause
- sores in the mouth which do not heal
5. Avoid tobacco
Using tobacco (chewing or smoking) can cause minor problems from bad breath and teeth staining to major health concerns including heart disease, oral cancer and other cancers.
April is Oral Health Month. Mark the occasion by following the expert advice above and applying those lessons you learned when you were a youngster. When it came to our oral health, our mothers (and fathers) really did know best.