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What your teeth say about your health

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Good dental health and good body health go hand in hand. Many people don't understand that regular brushing, flossing, and cleanings are important, not only to prevent cavities and bad breath, but also for overall health.

Plaque forms constantly from bacteria on the teeth and oral tissues. It is a sticky, colorless film producing toxins that irritate the gums. If not cleaned away daily, plaque causes gingivitis characterized by red, swollen, irritated gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis is sometimes ignored as it usually causes little discomfort. But over time, gingivitis progresses to periodontitis in which the infection eats away at the gum tissue and underlying bone, resulting in a receding gumline, bad breath, and loose or separating teeth. This too may cause little discomfort until it has reached severe stages.

Researchers claim that bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums. Some studies suggest that oral bacteria and inflammation of gum disease may somehow play a role in diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system. Periodontal disease, a chronic bacterial infection in the pockets around the teeth, has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and can make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Women with periodontal disease are at increased risk of delivering a low birthweight baby or delivering prematurely. It is also known that people who smoke or have HIV infection have an increased risk for developing periodontal disease.

Brushing properly, as detailed in the video above, and flossing are important for a healthy mouth, but they cannot totally remove all plaque, especially underneath the gum line. Plaque that is left behind, accumulates and hardens into tartar which can only be removed by professional dental instruments and techniques.

For good oral health, eat a balanced diet and limit sugary snacks, brush your teeth at least twice daily, floss between teeth once daily, rinse with a good mouthwash, and schedule regular professional cleanings according to your dentist's recommendation.

The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) School of Dentistry at Houston offers quality oral health care to low-income families. Their students learn skills by performing services under qualified supervision, at a fraction of regular cost to patients.

A mouth full of infection may indicate health issues in other systems of the body while a healthy mouth can be part of overall good health.

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