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Does a Healthy Smile Lead to a Healthy Heart? Research shows a link between oral and overall health

February is National Heart Disease Awareness Month, in recognition of the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. This month is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and increasing knowledge about prevention. But did you know that better dental health can help improve your heart health?

"Research shows a close connection between gum disease and some systemic health issues, like heart disease. Including strokes, heart or cardiovascular disease is the nation's number-one killer according to the American Heart Association. There's more reason than ever to maintain good oral health. It helps you maintain good health overall," said Dr. Christine Haag, dentist at First Choice Dental.

More and more, researchers see a link between oral health and overall health. The mouth can show signs of nutritional deficiencies, general infections and stress. In addition, other more serious health issues are related to oral health, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. More recently, scientists are seeing a link between gum disease and major diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

A trip to your family dental center can help you understand much more than the health of your teeth and gums. The first sign of illness or disease often surfaces in your mouth. Recent research reveals that oral health and general health should not be viewed as separate entities.

"By staying on track with routine dental care, you keep your teeth, gums and mouth healthy. So you can avoid the risk of gum disease and other oral health issues impacting your overall health," explains Dr. Haag.

Someone with cardio-related or heart-related health issues actually may need to visit their family dental center more often than every six months. Dentists will typically recommend that for those with certain systemic health issues, dental hygiene visits and routine dental exams should take place every 3-4 months. By maintaining excellent oral health, patients can avoid gum disease that could aggravate other health issues.

If my teeth and gums don't hurt, do I need a dentist?

Although the research shows a link between a healthy smile and a healthy you, many Americans still don't get to their family dental center often enough. A little less than two thirds of adults report having visited a dentist in the past 12 months. Many people view oral signs and symptoms to be less important than aches and pains due to general illness. But the truth is that pain may signal that the problem is already severe. And the fact that you have no pain doesn't necessarily mean there's no problem.

Routine dental hygiene visits and exams every six months, or more often for those with heart disease or other systemic health issues, can also make dental visits more comfortable, since today's comfort-conscious dental technologies make early detection and treatment much less invasive, more comfortable and often less expensive than what patients may need if they let problems go on undetected.

There are also individual preventative measures that can be taken to keep your smile and body healthy, too. Frequent brushing and flossing are important to your overall health. Flossing not only helps reduce plaque build-up and keep your teeth and gums healthy. It removes food that can aggravate bacteria and infection.

Take care of your smile and your health

During the past 50 years, we have seen the meaning of oral health change from a limited focus on teeth and gums to a wider recognition that the mouth is the epicenter of vital tissues and functions that are critical to overall health and well-being for a lifetime.

It's time that more people began to view the need to take care of their smile as a critical part of overall health care and well-being. Our smile is really a mirror of our complete body and can act as an early warning system for our total health.

February is the perfect month to start, by including a trip to your dentist as one way to help make sure that both your smile, and your heart, stay healthy!