You know you’re supposed to brush every day and visit your dentist at least once a year. (I’m assuming. If not, now you do.) Technically, you’re also supposed to floss at least once a day and squeeze in a round (or more) of mouth-washing before bedtime.
But besides preventing cavities, brushing your teeth keeps you healthy in a bunch of other ways. Here are five scary things that happen when you don’t take care of your mouth:
1. Stress. People struggling to navigate stress — think: a high-pressure job or an emotionally exhausting relationship — may be susceptible to more cavities than those who lead more even-keeled lives. Whether it’s the stress that gets in the way of their mouth upkeep or that poor oral hygiene contributes to inflammation and exacerbates psychological unrest isn’t entirely clear. Whichever comes first, consider caring for your teeth a way to manage stress during a hectic day. (Stepping away from the desk to floss in the bathroom? Hey, it’s some type of a break, right?)
2. Diabetes. Going a day without brushing your teeth won’t court a full-blown disease. But dry mouth and high levels of bacteria can exacerbate already present conditions, like diabetes. If you’re at risk, consider keeping some floss and sugar-free gum in your purse to clear any lingering mouth molecules that contribute to problems with regulating blood sugar.
3. Cognitive problems. You will set up your brain for an extended ability to function when you’re older by taking care of your mouth health today. Studies show that gum diseases caused by poor oral hygiene increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues later in life.
4. Osteoporosis. Keeping your teeth and tongue healthy helps keep your skeleton stronger. Well, the part of it that’s in your mouth, at least. According to the National Institutes of Health, too much bacteria between your cheeks can decay the connective tissues that hold your teeth in place, plus weaken the body’s immune system if constantly swallowed. Bone loss (aka osteoporosis) that accompanies old age or other health issues has also been linked to poor oral health.
5. Heart disease. More bacteria in your mouth can create a breeding ground for pathogens linked to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. So-called arterial plaque increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Brush up to reduce your odds.
Help a Mouth Out
To keep your oral health in top form, follow the recommendations most dentists offer their patients: Floss once a day, preferably before bedtime to unearth pesky food leftovers that can lead to cavities between your teeth; brush twice a day, ideally for two minutes; use mouthwash when you can; replace your toothbrush every three to four months — and please do not share the thing. If all else fails, chew sugar-free gum. People who do tend to have fewer cavities, less plaque, and stronger teeth. (Some studies even suggest chomping a stick gives you a brain power boost.)
And finally? Smile! Apparently people who are happier and more satisfied with their lives are more likely to have good oral health. Budgeting a few more minutes each day for oral health is a pretty easy way to boost your well-being — physically, emotionally, and aesthetically.
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